Fede Alvarez Alvarez’s latest contribution, the agonizingly tense ‘Don’t Breathe’, is the hotly anticipated psychological horror/thriller that flips the script on your average home invasion flick.
Words by Lola Josephine
Three young tearaways try and rob a blind war veteran for $300k, but their plan backfires as they quickly realise this old combat veteran is far from defenceless, and is harbouring a dark secret. The initial set-up of the film is fairly average. As we are introduced to Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Daniel Zovatto), and Money (Dylan Minnette), burglars who do petty cash jobs on rich homes. Each of them is desperate for the big cash payout, Rocky needs to get her younger sister off to the sunny shores of Cali, and away from their dead-beat mom and her broke ass boyfriend, Money needs money (obviously), and Alex, is simply willing to do almost anything to win Rocky’s affections. It’s a setup that’s somewhat reminiscent of Livide (2011), but Alvarez’s film is less theatrical creep-outs, more gritty, gruelling, terror. At first Alex is reluctant, and without the codes and gadgets from his father’s home security company the whole thing is off. But once Alex discovers that (as per credits) The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) got a cash settlement after a rich-bitch mowed down his daughter the job is back on. When the crew get rumbled – after Money’s soporific concoction fails to knock out the old geezer, the gang are trapped inside and make the mortal error of heading for the basement – Alvarez’s cutthroat suspense thriller starts to really dig in. Once it gets going Don’t Breathe is an effective, rousing, and deeply disturbing, but doesn’t need to resort to constant gambit jump-scares, or gore-porn tactics. (No insult to those styles of horror, I’ll always have a soft spot for jolt inducing frights and squirm provoking violence.)
Alvarez’s masterful use of silence, the switches between darkness (as in complete pitch black), and the dingy, grey, claustrophobic house, combined with a syhuzet that is disorientating, without ever being puzzling, generate an arduous, unrelenting tension that runs throughout the film in a torturous drone. One that will have you sat, cowering in your seat, quivering with pent up adrenaline, and still wanting more. While the film doesn’t really do anything strikingly new, it uses a fear-formula that is not unlike Intruders (2015), Alvarez is really displaying his ability to utilize all the facets of the suspense flick with hard-hitting effect. Anticipation drives an atmosphere of dread, as the audience is subject to agonizing waits (fumbling hands heading for the unseen assailant.) Or, in reverse, get a glimpse of the fatal mistake in that pivotal gut-wrenching second before it’s made (“Oh no! Don’t open that door!”) The plot twists divulge thick and fast, as the characters get infinitesimally close to escaping, but are thwarted at the last moment time and again. These cat-and-mouse antics generally dry up pretty quickly (Hush (2016), and The Strangers (2008.)) In Don’t Breathe each new twist is an expected-surprise that shocks and satisfies all in one uneasy bite. The term “expected-surprise” might sound contradictory, it might even sound vaguely ridiculous, but it really is just that. The film toys with its audience, and not just its characters, we have a vague, grainy, idea of what might happen and this knowable unpredictability is gravely unnerving.
We are never sure of precisely ‘when’ or ‘what’, just that it’ll to be ‘bad’… or ‘fucking awful.’ This really is edge-of-the-seat horror at its very finest. The young robbers scrambling in the darkness, with pupils that eclipse their eyes, is enough on its own, but Lang’s performance as the wiry, hardened, war veteran – and those grey, scarred up eyes – evokes the haunting thrills of a something paranormal, with all the cold, dead, fear of real life terror. Can the baddy really be the old blind ex-soldier protecting his home? YES He fucking can! He can be all that and then some. But amidst the sinister, darkness of his character is a pathos that, in fact, makes his plight justifiable, almost understandable – and our empathy with the villain is another way for Alvarez’s horror to crawl right under our skin. And the twist in this film is one YOU WILL NOT see coming … I’ll say no more.
Words by Lola Josephine