Monday, 26 September 2016

Don’t Breathe | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

So tense it doesn’t need a true protagonist.

Don’t Breathe, a turn-the-tables tale about three burglars who become their blind victim’s prey, offers no superb dialogue, no complicated internal struggles, and no computer-generated imagery-heavy superhero battles.

So what’s with all the glowing reviews from critics and audience members alike? It all comes down to the one thing that the film, directed by Fede Alvarez, delivers masterfully and relentlessly: tension.

The tenseness starts immediately with an aerial view of a seemingly vacant street bordered by houses. Unsettling music plays as the camera slowly zooms in on something disturbing happening in the middle of that street. The tone is set, and that tone will remain until the end.

Rocky (Jane Levy), the closest thing Don’t Breathe has to a protagonist, lives in a dilapidated Detroit neighborhood with her poverty-stricken mother and her younger sister. She wants to get enough money to whisk away her sister to California. The problem is how Rocky makes her money: by burglarizing wealthy people’s homes with her impulsive boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their quiet accomplice Alex (Dylan Minnette), who has an obvious crush on Rocky. When Money gets tipped off about a big score at the blind man’s house, Rocky’s dream is within grasp.

As the group explores the home, floorboards creak, characters whisper, and the camera lingers on potential weapons like tools on a pegboard or a gun under a bed. The rest of the film offers, if you’ll pardon the expression, a blindingly vast array of twists, narrow escapes, violent beatings, claustrophobic encounters, and, most nerve-wracking, characters’ attempts to stifle their own cries of pain or fear in the presence of the blind man.

Early in the film, Money says, “Just because he’s blind, don’t mean he’s a fuckin’ saint.” That assessment, albeit crude, turns out to be right on the money. Sorry.

The antagonist, played by Stephen Lang and known only as “the blind man”, may be older, but he’s no Mr. Magoo. He’s a Gulf War vet who got a bad lot in life: first he lost his sight in battle, then he lost his daughter to a car accident. With his ripped arms and his hulking Rottweiler, the blind man is an imposing fellow. He tosses people around like rag dolls, repeatedly punches them in the face, and doesn’t hesitate when it comes to pulling the trigger. He is brutish and unrelenting.

The title Don’t Breathe serves as a warning to the characters in the film, but it’s also a warning to you, the viewer, who becomes an accomplice by indirectly participating in this crime of a disabled vet. There are several severely tense scenes with no music and no sound during which the characters strive to remain silent… to not even breathe. And you, too, don’t want to breathe. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

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