Be forewarned. “Don’t Breathe” covers the gamut of terrible things: home invasion, burglary, mad dogs, mad people, kidnapping, murder, falling from heights, dodging bullets and surviving hammer blows.
If you’re squeamish, you might find “Don’t Breathe” more than you bargained for, even with its “R” warning. This is not the supernatural variety of horror, but the kind whose possibility lurks everywhere around us.
Co-written and directed by filmmaker Fede Alvarez, who hails from Uruguay, in spite of the violence, “Don’t Breathe” has some superlative attributes. The narrative arc maximizes suspense, pulling and pushing with perfect timing. Just when you think there’s hope, hope is dashed by a gunshot or a creaky floor.
Alvarez has a subtle touch when all that trouble comes galloping in, so you’re pulled into the terror slowly. You’ll find yourself holding your breath, and waiting, waiting.
Sheer cinematic genius controls the camera. Dolly shots, close-ups, and nuanced angles contribute to the film’s dark tone and maintain it. Watch for the way Alvarez brings everything full circle and ties up loose ends, only to unravel them at the last minute. Not one frame of this film edges over to the self-indulgent or overly sensationalized as so many horror films have a tendency to do.
Deviances also exist in conventional character development. Are we supposed to be rooting for The Blind Man (Stephen Lang)? His beloved daughter was recently run over by a careless driver. Now he lives alone in a deteriorated neighborhood somewhere in Detroit in what is literally the only inhabitable house on the block. It’s a big rambling structure; his familiarity with all the rooms seems astounding, given his total blindness. And he’s a war veteran, his loss of sight occurring from a battle wound in Iraq.
He’s sound asleep when a trio of money-hungry petty thieves enter his home in the middle of the night. When Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) learn that The Blind Man has been awarded a huge cash settlement for his daughter’s death, they determine that he has it stashed somewhere in his house.
In most cases, this situation would establish clear cut lines between the good guys and bad. Don’t rush to judgment because you’ll find your sympathy shifting. Things are always more complicated than you think.
This film is not for the faint of heart. “Don’t Breathe” will leave you breathless.
Rated R for terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.