Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Don’t Breathe (2016)

Late teen Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and her best friend - who’d rather like to be more than that - Alex (Dylan Minnette) try to escape the poverty of their Detroit surroundings via burglary jobs. Money’s the stupid asshole one who’ll become a proper professional criminal one day, Rocky the most desperate to get money to be able to flee her terrible home life together with her little sister, and Alex is the thoughtful one more in it for Rocky than the money.

Their next heist just might give them the break that’ll provide Rocky and Money with enough money to leave town - rather to the shock of Alex who is clearly still hoping that Rocky will drop Money and notice and reciprocate his own feelings for her. Their mark is the house of a blind war veteran living in a dilapidated house in an otherwise uninhabited street. Supposedly, he has quite a lot of money stashed away there with him. In fact it will turn out it’s even more money than the trio could ever have expected.

However, the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is also rather more dangerous than anyone would have expected. Making the situation more dangerous for everyone involved is the little fact the he’s not just richer, but also a much worse guy than any of the teen thieves could have imagined, harbouring a terrible secret locked up in his cellar, a secret he’s all too willing to kill to protect. And despite being blind, he’s more than capable when it comes to violence. Thanks to the specific type of security his secret needs, the Blind Man’s house will be rather more difficult to break out of than it was to break into.

Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe is pretty much a perfect thriller. Its set up is simple, its plot escalates beautifully, regularly snatching victory out of the characters’ hands in the worst possible way but without ever feeling too predictable in the ways it does it. Even though the character constellation sounds rather typical for this sort of affair, Alvarez makes the teen burglars (well, perhaps not Money), characters who could have been insufferable in lesser hands, three-dimensional and easy to root for without pretending they are better than they actually are, all the better for the audience to sympathize with the gauntlet of horrors they go through. At the same time, the piece’s villain does have an actual motivation, just one that drives him to deeply twisted acts compared to which a burglary truly is nothing of moral import. You get where he’s coming from, and loathe where he’s going with it.

Alvarez handles nearly everything in the film (except for some too on the nose metaphorical business about a lady bug, but that’s about a minute of film) with the same thought and care, turning even his cruder ideas effectively horrifying by not treating any of them as sleazy gimmicks, timing the sort of fake-outs that make many a thriller look too constructed and built for effect (which they of course are – a viewer shouldn’t notice that though) so well they feel incredibly exciting. The camera work goes from gliding to jittery to claustrophobic at the drop of a hat, further strengthening the intensity of the whole affair.

Additionally, the film’s final third becomes remarkably horrific not through blood and gore but because the film treats the basically grotesque truth of what the Blind Man is up to with full seriousness. Alvarez is here certainly helped selling it all through the strong performances of Levy and Lang.

It’s truly a perfect little film, one that literally (and I mean literally)  had me at the edge of my seat for much of its running time, finally turning that particular cliché into truth.

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