“Don’t Breathe”

MATT:  2.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

“Don’t Breathe” is a straight-up suspense movie being mis-marketed as a horror film. It’s not really horror. Other than a particularly unpleasant scene close to the end of the movie, there isn’t much that is horrific about the movie, and even that is not so much horror as morally repugnant. For this I fixedly point my finger at the distributors and Jacob Hall of Slashfilm, whose quote is prominently featured in the marketing campaign.

Why do I care so much? Because as an aficionado of the horror genre, it is so very frustrating to be sold one type of movie only to discover upon watching it that it’s actually NOT what is advertised. When I’m told that a film is “the best horror film in 20 years,” I take it with a grain of salt but I also go expecting to be scared, freaked out, frightened, disturbed or, at the very least, to get my pulse quickening. Don’t expect any of the above when you see “Don’t Breathe” and maybe you won’t be as disappointed as I was.

So with that as prologue, let’s review the movie.

“Don’t Breathe” is a decent enough suspense film that involves a reverse home invasion: instead of the intruders being the bad guys, the person who owns the home is the real antagonist. Three twenty-something petty criminals break into the home of a blind man to steal a large sum of cash, only to find themselves trapped in the home and hunted by the man.

It’s interesting how the movie tries to play with audience sympathies. The three would-be protagonists are obviously not very nice people — they earn money by stealing — but the film asks us to relate to them versus the home owner, who is arguably worse. This is a tricky feat to pull off, and it doesn’t work (at least not for me). Yeah, the blind home owner (Stephen Lang) is disgusting (and becomes even more so during the aforementioned morally repugnant scene) but movies like this are less fun when the protagonists are so completely unrelatable.

There isn’t much in this movie I haven’t seen before. It’s not hard to predict what will happen, scene-for-scene. That said, it is executed fairly well. Actors do a decent enough job (even if Jane Levy‘s primary job is opening her eyes as wide as possible and looking scared), and the direction is good enough to ratchet up the tension when the script calls for it.

While it doesn’t affect my rating, one more point bears mentioning. As he starts to commit the act that audiences are finding most offensive, the blind man hears Levy’s character Rocky asking god for help. The blind man responds that he doesn’t believe in god, and tells her that “once a man accepts that there is no god, he can do anything” — referring specifically to the morally repugnant act that he tells Rocky he is about to commit against her. While some may find this statement faith-affirming, it’s this type of philosophy that frightens non-believers the most. If all that is holding the faithful back from committing horrific acts of violence and degradation is a belief in some kind of eternal punishment / reward system, I would be terrified of the people who regularly attend Sunday services. I hope and believe that we are all better than that.


Louisa was unavailable for review.

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7 thoughts on ““Don’t Breathe”

  1. Yeah there’s a lot of people giving this movie unwarranted praise. I think this film is certainly a good watch, but I don’t agree with anyone who thinks this is an exceptional film. I think this is a byproduct of just how terrible horror films have gotten. The bar’s now set so low.

    I’m not surprised at all that that quote bothered you. It bothered me, but for different reasons: I appreciate subtlety in movies, and when a script has no subtlety to be found, it harms the overall film for me. This quote was the biggest example of how obvious the script was; the saving grace for this film is that it keeps the use of dialogue to a minimum… If they had more dialogue in Don’t Breathe, I would imagine my rating for it would have been lower.

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  2. I really enjoyed “Don’t Breathe” and thought it was one of the best horror films I’ve seen since “The Descent”. Yes, I would refer to it as a horror film because it had the tone of a horror film even though there wasn’t high body count or even enough people to slice and dice in creative ways. I was on the edge of my seat nearly the entire time.

    Few horror films scare or even thrill me. Most have become so predictable or redundant. “Don’t Breathe” managed to elevate itself beyond the typical horror film by employing a lot of suspense and surprises throughout the film. Not twists, but things that sneaked on the viewer so unexpectedly. I also loved how the filmmakers filmed that house, especially early on with what looked like an unbroken shot through the hallways while swooping over and under the furniture. That house so creepy that it was like a character all its own.

    As far as that morally repugnant scene is concerned, I do wish they left it out, but on the other hand it could have been much, much worse. I was glad they stopped it were they did. However, I found many recent horror films far more morally repugnant than that scene. The remakes of “Halloween” and”Halloween II” come to mind.

    As a horror film, I thought “Don’t Breathe” was comparable to the (gasp!) original Halloween, which relied far more on mood and suspense, than gore and a body count – which were minimal in both films.

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  3. Very well put. I called the movie a thriller, because I found the horror label too far off the mark. And, I also found the line about not believing in God troubling, though I’m not sure if that was what was intended, after all it’s the antagonist that says it. Regardless, I know many will interpret it as to be saying you can only have morals if you’re a theist.

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  4. Interesting thoughts. Personally, I found some of the scenes very scary. In fact, the idea of being chased by a savage and unrelenting dog fills me with far more horror than any demonic possession or flesh-eating zombie ever will, because of how grounded in realism the concept is. I could walk down my street free from any interaction with the undead with 100% certainty, but a rabid hound, while unlikely, is not impossible.

    I do agree with being unable to relate to the protagonists at all. Until that much discussed scene, there was no way I was rooting for the thieves to win the day. And that scene was definitely unnecessary. I have no issues personally with including scenes of moral depravity if they suit the plot, but I feel this film would have been a lot tighter if they kept the Blind Man a bit more simple.

    Great review though. I found it good but not great.

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  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone! As a lifelong fan of the genre, I’m probably being a little oversensitive about the horror label, but only because it’s being marketed so heavily as horror when I don’t view it that way. I see it as a straight up thriller / suspense film in the vein of “Panic Room”, “The Brave One”, or “Death Sentence”. It’s hard to define horror and what makes something a horror film — it’s sometimes easier to paraphrase Justice Stewart and say “I know it when I see it, and this ain’t it.” If a movie is going to put itself up as a contender for best horror film in 20 years (competing with movies like “Blair Witch Project”, “It Follows”, “Saw” and others) I expect it to deliver on that promise. – Matt

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