We are in a horror thriller renaissance. Beginning with The Babadook in 2014, films like It Follows, and The Witch have brought horror back out into the light. Though Don’t Breathe doesn’t really have the artistic depth as these, writer/director Fede Alvarez (the 2013 Evil Dead remake, also great) includes enough creative twists, and effective suspense to make Don’t Breathe another winner.
The premise seems absurd at first; three robbers attempt to break into and rob the house of a blind old man, but this old guy is a lot more prepared than the bargained for, and it leads to a fight for survival. You make think that with such a small, confined setting, that the plot wouldn’t really work, but it’s very effective. From the initial break in, a long tracking shot covers the whole area of the house, highlighting items that will be important later. It’s a strategy that gives the film a feel of a game: the house is the board, and the cast the players. The rules are established and the blind old man (Stephen Lang) and the robbers (who include Evil Dead’s Jane Levy and Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) are left to duke it out. The mechanic makes for some really effective jump scares, and some really intense scenes, including one where the robbers are hunted in the pitch black basement. Other standout scenes include one inside an air vent, and a handful of visceral fight and chase scenes that, in terms of suspense, and occasionally terror, work very well.
Amidst this already creative set-up are some twists that will really take you off guard. The real secrets of the old man are revealed about halfway through, and they could not have taken me more by surprise. The air of unpredictability, and the blur between who is in the right and wrong just serve to add to the entertainment value of the film. There are some shortcomings though. The tight confines of the film sometimes make plot stretched out, and occasionally the action tips over towards the absurd. The ending also is a little bit out there in terms of believability, but not so much as to bog the film down.
The horror genre has been in a slump for a while, but I am incredibly glad to see films like Don’t Breathe reviving it again. Whether it be for artistic merit, or just for a casual scare, there’s clearly room for entertaining, creative ideas still floating around. I’m excited to have more creative horror films takes me off guard.