A group of friends think they’ve hit the jackpot when they are tipped off about a large sum of money in an ex-Veteran’s house. Discovering that the old man is blind, the group are certain it’s going to be a quick getaway, but are shocked when they are granted a far from easy escape.
As a huge fan of Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead, I was expecting to enjoy Don’t Breathe. However, I was not expecting to be blown out of my seat and left breathless by its intensity, sheer terror and relentless pace. I was not expecting to be scared to death. I can appreciate when a film executes an effective fright, but very few horror films truly scare me, but Don’t Breathe chilled me to the core and I’m not afraid to say it. I’ve never gripped a pen as hard in my life as I sat down ready to take notes. It’s safe to say very few notes were written, because I clutched that damn pen for almost the entirety of the film, barely daring to breathe, let alone to write.
Don’t Breathe expands on what Mike Flanagan achieved with this year’s equally impressive thriller Hush, by turning the tables on the assailants and showing them that they’ve picked the wrong house. Flanagan’s feature is not quite as on-the-nose as Alvarez’s, because his leading lady becomes an unlikely heroine. However, Don’t Breathe pits a group of teenagers against an ex-Vet who may be blind, but is blatantly capable of kicking some ass. He dishes out a revenge that is so cold and so unthinkable, it will leave you reeling. It is undeniably entertaining to watch these kids duck and dive as they try to be quiet as mice as the blind man powers through the house with one thing on his mind: pay back.
Fede Alvarez crafts a character so chilling and unstoppable that it will leave you constantly questioning, “How much farther can this go?” The simple answer is: much farther. The film builds to impossibly high levels of suspense and Lang is at the core, carrying the film with such conviction and strength, constructing someone so unbelievably terrifying. He is a nightmare’s dream in this perfectly petrifying role that will leave your knuckles whiter than a ghost. He moves through the house at a break-neck speed that feels all the scarier with the film’s minimal cutting and sweeping camera shots. Every single second ticks by at agonising speed as a pounding soundtrack coupled with this smooth editing creates a non-stop and seamless suspense-ride. The film flows from room to room and moment to moment in a glorious fashion that drags the audience in and traps them in the same claustrophobic horror that Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are suffering through. It truly is a thundering achievement in horror that proves that the home invasion genre is far from dead and that Fede Alvarez is the new Master of Horror.
This is little more than a cat and mouse game, but as he did with his 2014 remake of Evil Dead, Alvarez proves that it is possible to breathe new life into an old idea. The film takes a simply claustrophobic concept and shifts it into fifth gear as it charges from scene to scene in a beautiful blur of tension and terror. In terms of style and brutality, this is unmistakably from the director of Evil Dead and has Alvarez’s twisted charm written all over it. Once again, he thrusts a group of people into a house of hell, but this time the threat is far from supernatural. Nonetheless, the decision to light-up the house in uneasy green and yellow tones creates the illusion that this house is in a world of its own. The other-worldly feel of the house stamps the film with an even heavier stamp of unease that is mirrored in Lang’s powerful presence as the blind man. The film is a stunning showcase of scares that pieces together a jigsaw of technical achievements and well-timed shocks that creates a whole that can only be described as horror perfection. It’s a shocking, brilliant and thoroughly entertaining from its opening to closing moments. So many films are criticised for over-staying their welcome, but Don’t Breathe is flawlessly paced with not even one second wasted.
The stark shift from the outside world into this house is mimicked in the film’s frequent swings from a head-pounding soundtrack to eye-opening, unbearable silence, light to skin-crawling darkness and even in the back-and-forth moral conclusions the audience will face. In the end you will be left shaken from both the physical assault this film will have on you, as well as the shockingly complex set of principals it launches upon you. Do we feel sorry for the young robbers or the blind man? It seems like an easy decision to make at first, but by the time Don’t Breathe has thrown you into its inescapable deep end – or basement -, you’ll be left helpless to decide whose side you’re truly on and it’s all the more fantastic for it. Alvarez’s spin on the home-invasion sub-genre is a belter that will be adored by horror lovers.
Don’t Breathe is the scariest horror-thriller of the year. There, I said it.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)