Fede Alvarez's Don't Breathe is an engaging and well-shot horror film that teeters on a thin script and somewhat unlikable characters. Fortunately, Alvarez knows how to shoot tension and keep the jump scares coming.
Evil Dead reboot director Fede Alvarez‘s latest horror film Don’t Breathe is the perfect injection of last-minute horror in an otherwise dull summer. Don’t Breathe is gorgeously shot, with Alvarez reassuring us that mainstream studio horror can still look good and pack the bloody punches. Unfortunately, the film’s script is kind of thin, leaving the unlikable characters and the entire story feeling like one big exercise of patience and bad decisions. Still, Alvarez earns a solid pass in my book, because Don’t Breathe manages to make you grip tight onto the edge of your seat and sit uneasy during several moments of genuine terror… all without having to bring in the paranormal or shaky cam.
Don’t Breathe is a rather simple film, revolving around a trio of young burglars as they decide to rob a blind man and take off with his cash. Rocky (Jane Levy) is simply trying to get enough money to head to a better place with her little sister, while her asshole mother stays behind, while Alex (Goosebumps‘ Dylan Minnette) wants to ensure that Rocky is safe and doesn’t get into too much trouble, because the third member of the “gang” is the idiotic one named Money (Daniel Zovatto).
The three generally lay low as common thieves, using Alex’s dad’s extra set of keys to break into homes, because his dad works for a security company.
But a hot tip leads them to The Blind Man’s (Stephen Lang) house, which is supposedly located in the middle of nowhere Detroit, yet somewhere in the home rests nearly half a million dollars.
What the kids don’t know is that Lang’s character is a blind Army veteran with quite the set of ass-kicking skills, not to mention a sad backstory that makes way for some creepy encounters.
To spoil Don’t Breathe would be to ruin the film of its final act. Don’t Breathe does have some strong moments of clever writing and filmmaking work that must be applauded. Director Fede Alvarez has managed to write a decent-enough script with co-writer Rodo Sayagues, unfortunately for them the film starts to feel slightly drawn out and all-over-the-place.
There are aspects of the film’s script that don’t feel whole or fleshed out enough, yet the film chugs along, because of Alvarez’s ability to shoot horror with such a strong eye.
His camerawork is clever and well-placed, always managing to squeeze the right amount of tension and terror out of the audience. He definitely works the blind man trope to his favor, yet there are parts of the film that feel like he could have explored so much more.
One of the biggest problems with the film is the three core characters. Two of them are mostly not horrible people, while one of them is kind of a big enough asshole to warrant a quick death. The other two aren’t saints by any means, which makes it hard to sympathize with them for a bulk of the film.
Especially when the Blind Man is getting robbed.
Yes, Don’t Breathe has some secrets that help even the playing field, but still — the film doesn’t really have any “good” characters. They’re all varying degrees of bad, which makes Don’t Breathe a confusing film to get behind.
Alvarez is lucky enough to have a concept that works despite these downfalls, which keeps Don’t Breathe mostly feeling like a strong piece of studio horror that slipped in right under the radar before the summer was officially wrapped up.
I love that Alvarez isn’t afraid to use a little body horror in his favor and I appreciate the practical effects and slow-burn build up. But that doesn’t mean that all of it adds up to equal a great horror film.
Don’t Breathe is a good horror film that sometimes skids by as being an even better one, but there are things that hold it back from being absolutely great.
I do think that the film is a step in the right direction for Alvarez, especially after Evil Dead showed us his talents as a gory horror filmmaker with a unique enough eye to mix things up, yet still pay his “respects”.
I’d like to see him go completely nuts with his next film and not hold back at all. Don’t Breathe feels like a film that had multiple scripts at one point, going off in various directions. The concluding direction isn’t exactly the worst choice, but one that feels a little too safe for Alvarez and the film that he’s constructed.
There’s some striking visuals and genuine scares to be had in Don’t Breathe, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s the best horror film in years.