Home invasion is a scenario that rarely deals in gray area. There are the white-hatted heroes and final girls on one side and the depraved monsters and murderers on the other. The would-be victims can deal all the violence they want and still keep us on their side because it’s a fight for survival. Don’t Breathe is a picture that doesn’t want to take it so easy on our sense of morality, protagonist and antagonist. Instead, it delights in making a bit of a pendulum of our loyalties as details and flaws are revealed on both sides of the conflict.
Don’t Breathe first introduces us to Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) as they break into a home and carefully loot it for as much in cash and prizes as they can without crossing into serious jail time level activity. They’re not doing this for kicks exactly. It’s escapism, yes, but mostly a means to escape. These three live in an unsavory, depressed and dying section of Detroit, and they want out. So when an easy target in the middle of a deserted neighborhood with the promise of money enough to end their life of crime crops up, they break all their own rules.
When it transpires that their target is not only living in a moldering house in an all-but-dead neighborhood but is also a blind ex-soldier, we get a moment’s pause. “Isn’t a bit fucked up to rob a blind guy?” “Just cause he’s blind don’t mean he’s a saint.” And with that, away we go. Suffice it to say Rocky and company were blind to their own disadvantage when they picked this house. Locked in more completely than they can imagine and up against a guy who’s fluent in violence and has no qualms dealing it out, they’re quite suddenly in the highest stakes game of hide and seek you can imagine.
This is high concept, and I’ll admit, excited as I was to see Don’t Breathe, I was also skeptical. Why wouldn’t they just leave? Is this all just going to be 90 minutes of kids stumbling around in the dark? I’m here to tell you, my fears were efficiently dispatched. Director and co-writer Fede Alvarez packs his slim 88-minute feature with so many clever uses of this concept that it seems impossible the movie isn’t longer. And that curious duality? He knows exactly how to play it. We are at once watching the intruders live through a very visceral kind of horror and the blind man experience what Alvarez aptly terms a ghost story. He can’t see his enemies. He can’t trust his own experience. And yet, the threat is powerful enough to motivate him to do real violence. Huge credit is due to the cast for embracing this concept and selling the hell out of it. It’s quite something to watch both unfold at once.
Ultimately, you’re going to take sides. You’re going to cringe and squirm and soak in some really glorious tension and suspense. And most importantly, you are going to have a lot of fun. Don’t Breathe is the dark little treat you didn’t know you needed.
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayauges
Runtime: 1h 28mins
All images courtesy: Sony Pictures and Screen Gems