MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang/ Runtime: 88 minutes
I think it is safe to say that the horror genre truly has experienced a truly enjoyable renaissance over the last few years. I say that because in that time frame we have moved from the embarrassing days of constant, tension-free torture porn outings and come to see raw, smart horror films like The Witch, The Babadook, and It Follows emerge that have continually reminded us why we as film audiences love this genre. Yet shockingly it doesn’t seem like it’s coming to an end just yet. This is because despite critics and audiences thinking Lights Out would become the definitive fright fest to win summer 2016, Fede Alvarez’s newest Don’t Breathe managed to come along at the tail end of the summer movie season and in its attempts to tap into some of the deepest, and darkest fears an audience could have in its collective heart has managed to give us all a slightly bloody yet extremely intense and thrilling instant horror classic that is truly not for the faint of heart and that I can honestly say I already love and treasure with a passion.
The plot is as follows: the film follows a trio of young thieves as they endeavor to make enough money to escape a hollowed-out Detroit, a location it seems I might add that has become a new favorite location for modern horror films. Yet when fencing stolen items starts to see diminishing returns from their main buyers, the trio learn about a blind Gulf War veteran living in a secluded and run-down nearby neighborhood who supposedly has enough cash sitting in a safe for them to leave their awful lives behind and move to California, because hey why not? Thus after the prerequisite amount of bickering about the ethics behind it and blah-blah-blah they decide to go for it and all initially seems to be going well and everything going according to plan. Yet when the blind man wakes up what was supposed to be a routine heist is soon transformed into an entire evening of unanticipated and unequivocal terror as well as an intense and brutal fight for survival for our young “heroes”….
Now I should forewarn you guys: I will be talking a little bit about the Evil Dead films for a little bit in this review. To be fair though this is simply because from this movie’s opening moments, even without a supernatural element, the DNA of Evil Dead makes itself apparent very quickly in this new film’s tone, style, and overall aesthetic. For example we see that Fede Alvarez’ fluid camerawork feels extremely reminiscent of the first two Evil Dead films which are known for their usage of long tracking shots to establish the geography of the single location where they took place. Indeed it is definitely my opinion that a lot of painstaking effort went into the look of this movie, and it shows. This is because even though the movie is set in a, to be honest with you, pretty hideous looking location this is still an absolutely beautiful looking movie. Also the director manages to honor Sam Raimi’s brand of horror even further with his ability to, from a very simple premise mind you, squeeze every single kind of imaginable scare out of its setting — crafting frights than can come from above, below, and all around at any given moment. Yet the movie does a brilliant job of getting the fear going early yet make it potent and strong and from that point forward pretty much never ever lets up. Indeed this truly is a quite visceral and brutal thriller that offers unrelenting tension and a wide array of scares. Plus I think it’s safe to say that almost every scene manages to find new and creative ways for these characters to fight for their lives be it crawling in the dark, running around like crazed, or even just simply placed into increasingly tighter and tighter spaces there’s practically a scene in this film that is meant to capitalize on nearly every phobia imaginable, and the film succeeds due to the perfectly paced delivery of these truly fantastic scares. Yet while there are plenty of effective jump scares in the film it’s really truly the environment and consistent atmospheric tension that succeeds in selling the fears that this film provides. Plus it really feels like the house in this film, much like the cabin from Evil Dead, acts more as a character unto itself rather than just the setting where these films take place. A feat I might add that the filmmakers achieve by not only a series of successful scares of various types, but also by magnificently filling us with a sense of dread that we cannot shake no matter what we do even when the movie is over and that is because we still find ourselves with that same sense of dread and no matter how many times we watch the events in these films unfold that dread will always be there.
Now the performances in this film are uniformly strong with particular kudos going to Miss Jane Levy as Rocky and who also once again proves that she may in fact be one of the definitive scream queens for the 21st century. Indeed much like her recovering drug addict Mia from Fede Alvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead remake, Rocky really truly is a scrappy fighter whose rough upbringing makes her the believable and sympathetic protagonist that we as an audience need to be able to follow and even relate to while watching a downright terrible situation like this unfold. Indeed she’s smart, she’s tough, and you will find yourself really rooting for her and hoping she makes it out of this absolutely horrendous nightmare alive. That being said however it’s Stephen Lang who deserves the majority of the acting credit for his sadistic yet almost sympathetic portrayal of the film’s villain: the Blind Man (and trust me that’s what he goes by the entire movie. That is not a spoiler either. Just saying.) Indeed this is a character that gives us the chance to witness, not only what an elderly Daredevil would be like if he moved to Detroit, but on a more serious note, a truly complicated and quite psychotic man who can go from unassuming, to merciless, to almost pitiable at times yet then you see what he’s truly capable of and he’s back to being an entity who, while at one time may have been human, has recently become more like a monster that has spent far too much time alone staring (literally) into his own darkness. Yet the thing that makes Lang so terrifying in this movie isn’t just those things; it’s the fact that, unlike Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Pinhead, Candyman, or any of the other infamous villains in the horror pantheon Lang’s Blind Man is a villain that could actually exist on any street in any city and that is the most terrifying aspect of all.
Now it really truly is a testament to how good this film is when its finale simply can’t live up to its first and second acts. This is because although the movie starts good, becomes great within a few minutes, and then maintains that high quality for much of its 88-minute run time yet it sadly stops just short of perfection. This is because as day breaks outside of the house, the film begins to lose some of its impact, and thus its overwhelmingly grim atmosphere starts to fade. Indeed while the film still offers some solid scares in its final act they’re sadly nothing that compares to what we as an audience have just gone through during the beginning and middle portion of this film.
All in all and despite that stumbling block however, Don’t Breathe is a truly visceral and quite brutal thriller that offers audiences a compelling set of lead performances, an extremely high dosage of nightmarish atmosphere, and a new horror icon in the form of Stephen Lang’s Blind Man. Yet at the same time I feel at the same time Don’t Breathe also manages to serve as a film that is undoubtedly a genuine 100% must see for anyone who considers themselves a self-respecting fan of the horror genre. On a scale of 1-5 I give Don’t Breathe “2016” a solid 4 out of 5.