I tend to go into horror movies with trepidation. The horror genre is my favorite, as I’ve detailed before, but it’s the one genre that I think has the lowest success rate. So far, 2016 has given us a lot of critically beloved horror features–The Witch, Green Room, The Conjuring 2, The Shallows, Lights Out. It does feel like we are due for a dud.
Luckily, Don’t Breathe isn’t the failure I had feared. Instead, it lends itself to the growing pile of evidence that 2016 is one of the best years for horror movies ever.
Don’t Breathe is writer/director Fede Alvarez’s second feature film after 2013’s Evil Dead. In recent interviews, Alvarez has talked about how Don’t Breathe is very much a reactionary film to Evil Dead–whereas Evil Dead was a remake/reboot with supernatural horror and buckets of blood, Don’t Breathe features a wholly original story without any hint of the supernatural and almost no blood at all.
In Don’t Breathe, Rocky, Alex, and Money burglarize homes in the suburban areas of Detroit. Rocky is just trying to grab enough cash to take her sister to California away from her abusive parents, Money is your resident douchebag, and Alex is totally in love with Rocky. When they hear about a fortune hidden in the home of a blind veteran, they decide to make one last score. Unfortunately for them, the Blind Man (as he’s referred to in the credits) decides to fight back, trapping the would-be robbers in his home as they fight to survive.
Alvarez has crafted a truly unique spin on the home invasion movie; typically, your protagonists are those being robbed. It’s not the only way Alvarez inverts horror tropes. Instead of the Blind Man’s house being the only scary one on a nice street, he has the only nice house on a street full of dilapidated and boarded up homes. As a movie monster, the Blind Man has no supernatural abilities–he has no super hearing or increased agility or strength. He’s simply a blind man defending his home.
That’s not to say Don’t Breathe plays everything so simple–there are several twists that are hard to see coming, each one more horrifying than the last. It’s terrifying at parts and downright horrific during some scenes. Don’t Breathe is as edge-of-your-seat as horror movies get.
Not enough praise can be levied at Stephen Lang’s portrayal of the Blind Man. He has very little dialogue, but he doesn’t need it. Lang is terrifying, his physicality enough to be scary. Whenever the Blind Man is on screen the tension skyrockets.
That something this confident and lean has come so early in Alvarez’s career is nothing short of miraculous. Don’t Breathe is a worthwhile follow up to Evil Dead, and it’s an excellent addition to the pantheon of great horror films. One can’t help but be very excited by Alvarez’s promising future as a filmmaker.