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Don't Breathe (2016)

Directed by Fede Alvarez, Home Alone 6 Don’t Breathe stars Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto as three young burglars that pick the wrong house. Stephen Lang plays their apparent easy target: a blind man with a ridiculous Tom Hardy-esc voice, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash hidden in his house. Their new host manages to turn the tables though, and if you have seen the trailer you will know what I mean when I say that this is one of the most original concepts for a horror film I’ve seen in a long time.

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This was the third time my friend Eve and I had tried to go to see something together at the cinema. Hail, Caesar! (2016) didn’t happen when phone batteries and ridiculous traffic conspired against us, and The Usual Suspects (1995) didn’t happen when Odeon forgot to get the rights to show it! So when we found ourselves running nearly 30 minutes late in awful traffic again, we were close to giving up and banning each other from going anywhere near the same cinema again. Thankfully we didn’t need to revert to our fall back Ben-Hur, and found our seats straight after the trailers. I was chuffed we did as Don’t Breathe was a lot of fun. So often there are original concepts that look good on a 2 minute trailer but can’t last the distance when turned in to a full movie, but Don’t Breathe bucks that trend. Stephen Lang’s hermit, Norman Nordstrom, has a dark past and secrets that come to the fore as the film unfolds, but his military training and imperious physique make him a much harder mark than the three friends imagined. Once he is aware of the intruders, a game of cat and mouse unfolds as the kids look to escape the house without making any noise and drawing the attention of their dangerous host.
The films opens with lots of background noise and a score that is suddenly conspicuous in its absence as soon as they enter the house. Just as the characters shift past the blind man in the dark, and avoid creaky floorboards (or not!), I found myself frozen to my seat, and trying not to breathe too heavily myself or rustle my own packet of Minstrels. It reminded me a lot of Pan’s Labyrinth’s (2006) Pale Man scene, or when Tom Cruise is dangling from a ceiling as quietly as he can in Mission Impossible (1996). When the film is good, it’s incredibly tense, and my senses were heightened to every sound and movement. There’s a scene in the basement where the power is cut and Rocky (Levy) and Alex (Minnette) are left as blind as the man hunting them down. The decisions to shoot this scene in black and grey night vision reminded me a lot of [REC] (2007), and that alone is enough to get my palms sweaty. There’s also the best ‘lying on a plate of glass as it gradually cracks under your fingers’ scene since The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)… admittedly I doubt there are many other contenders though.

I thought Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette were pretty good (really liked the latter in particular since being pleasantly surprised by Goosebumps earlier this year), but its Stephen Lang that the film hinges on. The physicality he brings is spot on, and I was interested to find out that the lenses he wore to appear blind did actually limit his vision to a degree too. The three intruders are interesting enough characters, even if some of the backstories seem a little tacked on. The problem the film has is convincing you that these are the people to get behind, and not the poor, blind war veteran who lost his daughter to a car accident and is now having his house burgled. It does so by giving him a dark secret I felt a little shore-horned in to simultaneously get you on side as well as upping the queasy scale a few notches. I didn’t think the film was all that gory for a horror film, but one scene in particular when his secret come clear actually made my stomach turn. If you have seen it you will know what I mean, but urgh… turkey basters. The action scenes were inventive, and almost got everything they could out of the concept. I would just have liked to see the intruders take advantage of their opposite number’s handicap more (… that sounded better in my head). A few times it would have made sense for someone to throw something across a room to cause a distraction but instead they find themselves tiptoeing round corners, squeezing through vents and hiding under sinks so as not to get caught.

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Despite some slightly annoying character decision making and a couple of lazy jump scares, I thought Don’t Breathe was good fun and I’m glad the trailer didn’t have all of the good bits in. The tension was great and I could hear every bum clench in the cinema. I’m not sure it would live that long in the memory but it was good while it lasted. Shame about an ending that felt like a re-shoot to open up the possibility of sequels.


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