Don’t Breathe (2016)

  • Time: 88 min
  • Genre: Horror | Thriller
  • Director: Fede Alvarez
  • Cast: Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy, Stephen Lang


Rocky, a young woman wanting to start a better life for her and her sister, agrees to take part in the robbery of a house owned by a wealthy blind man with her boyfriend Money and their friend Alex. But when the blind man turns out to be a serial killer, the group must find a way to escape his home before they become his newest victims.


  • In Don’t Breathe, one of the main characters is a blind Army veteran. At the beginning of the film, he is seen walking with a standard, blind man’s cane. Cut to the last act and it’s as if the filmmakers forgot that the dude even lost his own vision. Also in “Breathe”, every actor/actress gets severely tortured, beaten, or thrown up against a wall. They get up, dust themselves off, and forge on. Now could any human being survive this kind of carnage? Not a chance in my book. Anyway, these two factors are the only points I shaved off my rating for one of the best releases of 2016.

    Don’t Breathe in essence, seems like a great title for the film I’m about to review. If you choose to check out a screening, you’ll be so enthralled you’ll forget to um, “breathe” and possibly chew off every fingernail on both hands.

    “Breathe’s” director is Fede Alvarez. He made the forgettable remake Evil Dead. Here, he goes from amateur status to almost genius status in a little over three years. Fede comes back with a vengeance giving us one of the most effective thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. He fits every plot point neatly in place, provides efficacious close-pus, and throws lots of genuine twists and turns at you. And just when you think Don’t Breathe is about to end, it just keeps going, relentless and interminable. Does that add to the flick’s effectiveness? Uh, you know it.

    Notice that I labeled “Breathe” a thriller. That’s what I believe it to be. Most critics and IMDb enthusiasts have saddled it as a horror fest. I go more with the latter route and it’s a nasty and unforgiving one at that. At 88 minutes, “Breathe” is bloodily violent and stomach-turning but not in a demon sort of way. Instead, it absorbs you as if you’ve been in the theater for 2-plus hours. It’s a little movie made on a tiny budget (under $10 million) but it nestles in your brain and has a big chip on its shoulder. If you’re a fan of suspense and like simple agog, genre pleasures, Don’t Breathe is the ticket. “Don’t” hesitate to get your butt to the multiplex to see it. Natch.

    Taking place in Detroit, Michigan (which is made to look like modern day Beirut), containing only a a smidgen of actors, and produced by the legendary Sam Raimi, Don’t Breathe is lean and mean with remnants of films like The Descent and Cujo to keep you floored. It has no real protagonist or hero. Everyone involved is a bad person in their own little way. The story is about three lawless thieves named Rocky (Reese Witherspoon lookalike Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Alex (Dylan Minnette). They break into people’s houses and are very successful at it until they meet their match trying to rob a guy simply known as “The Blind Man” (played nicely by Avatar’s Stephen Lang). “The Blind Man” knows how to fire a gun, knows how to arm himself with fists, and obviously has darn good hearing. He senses these cocky kids are trying to steal a money settlement from him in his old, rundown house (the amount of the settlement is I guess, $300k). Bad move. “The Blind Man” kills one of the thieves (spoiler) and traps the other two in his abode until he is able to finish them off as well. “The Blind Man” with his snarly dog to aid him, also bolts everything up and turns his whole place into a fun house you’d find at an amusement park. Watch for a scene a la Silence of the Lambs in which he turns all the lights off so that his captors can experience what he experiences everyday. Also, check out the opening shot where a body is being dragged on a deserted street. You don’t know what you’re seeing until the camera eventually zooms in. Pretty unexpected.

    Bottom line: Despite its minimal shortcomings, Don’t Breathe is grubby, dirty, and darkened with above average performances. It is by turns original, indigenous, and tension-filled. A new classic. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5 )


    IN BRIEF: A nifty little thriller that relies on suspense rather than gore.

    GRADE: B

    SYNOPSIS: Three thugs decide to rob a home with unexpected results.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Let me begin my review by sharing one of my favorite movie-going experiences. As a child, we were visiting all the tourist sights of New York City. That afternoon, we were hustled to our seats at the cavernous Art Deco beauty known as Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes and their musical extravaganza, to be followed by a movie called Wait Until Dark. The thriller, about a group of robbers terrorizing a blind Audrey Hepburn was riveting to me. And during a climactic battle of wits between the defenseless victim and her stalker, the entire community of moviegoers gave out a loud primal scream, levitated from their seats, and then laughed at their own reactions.  Like a well choreographed flash mob scene before its time, but totally unplanned. Wonderful, I thought, this is what movies can do!

    Which brings me to the film, Don’t Breathe, which follows almost the exact same formula and plot. Not to the same desired effect, but still impressive by today’s standards. The cat vs. mouse set-up is part of a time honored tradition among thieves in a game-turning series of events. Strategically staged and with a hell-bent slyness, the film has more bumps in the night than most usual horror thrillers.

    This is due to the skills of its director, Fede Alvarez. With this being only his second film that he directed (the first being an awful remake of Evil Dead), Mr. Alvarez is a talent to watch. Vastly superior to his first venture where he seemed more obsessed with the grisly blood factor, this film is not as graphically violent as that first film (which detracted from the suspense). With Don’t Breathe, he is more restrained and in control as a director. The shock factor is still there, but handled with more finesse (except for a short detour into sexual abuse that is crass and disturbing).

    The premise is simple, more an outline than a story: Three thugs decide to rob a home with unexpected results. The trio includes Alex (Dylan Minette), a sensitive love-sick delinquent, Rocky (a fine Jane Levy), a desperate and savvy partner wanting to escape from her abusive and poverty-ridden lifestyle, and Money (Daniel Zovatto), an unlikeable psychopath. Their victim is supposed to be the owner of the house, a blind ex-soldier who is nameless in the film. Effectively played by Stephen Lang, the stage is ready for twists and turns…perhaps too many, as it wears out its welcome with an overindulgence of multiple endings and strained confrontations that become contrived and threaten to impact on the film’s credibility as the predators instantly become prey.

    Still Don’t Breathe generates maximum tension with a minimum of modern-day gore, just enough which should suffice its Generation Z audience. The script, by the director and his writing partner, Rodo Sayagues, is formulaic and predictable, but it successfully maintains suspense and provides the thrills. Going in to this genre of movies you get what you expect, but there is some wit and cleverness in the film’s visuals, particularly in a ”lights-out segment” that is downright creepy and excitingly filmed by Pedro Luque.

    Don’t Breathe seems to be a well deserved spooky sleeper hit. The tension builds steadily in a logical and slightly claustrophobic way (except for its final ending). Mr. Alvarez and his cast notch up the suspense ratio in this nifty little thriller that delivers more goosebumps/moviegoer. The scares are headed in your direction. So sit back and try to relax.

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  • A tense home invasion thriller that mines its suspense from suffocated spaces and stifled silences, Don’t Breathe cements director Fede Alvarez’s deft and canny handling of the visual and tonal aspects of the genre if not a less superficial regard for character and motivation.

    Of course, character and motivation are secondary concerns when it comes to thrillers or horror films, neither of which engender much post-analysis, but they do enhance the audience’s emotional investment in the fates of the leading characters. To that end, Don’t Breathe is a near-miss since almost all of its characters are barely one-dimensional, though Jane Levy and Stephen Lang are enigmatic enough presences to overcome this deficiency.

    Alvarez establishes the set-up with efficient economy. Levy is Rocky, a young mother hoping to raise enough funds to get herself and her young daughter a better life elsewhere. She and her loser boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) have been breaking and entering into houses in suburban Detroit (most of the film was shot in Hungary) with the help of Alex (Dylan Minnette), who provides them with the keys from his father’s security company so they can gain easier access. Alex, who has an unrequited crush on Rocky, is also the relative voice of reason – he’s highly reluctant when Money announces their next target: a blind military veteran (Lang) who received a six-figure settlement after his daughter was killed in a car accident.

    It should all be so simple, but the trio soon discover that breaking in is easier than getting out. The blind man turns out to be hiding something arguably far more precious than cash, and he is relentless in his efforts to protect his secret. Alvarez tightens the reins here, often dropping the sound altogether as the intruders desperately fumble through the darkness in hopes of finding a way out. The house itself appears to expand and constrict. Various members of the trio often find themselves within inches of the blind man, terrifying moments that take the breath away.

    Levy, who also appeared in Alvarez’s 2013 remake of Evil Dead, makes for a gritty and resourceful heroine but it’s the brawny Lang who dominates the film with his chillingly quiet menace. Both nearly sell the third-act twist, which some viewers may find out of bounds whilst others might delight in its psychosexual perversity.

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