Cinema this summer has left a lot to be desired. Characterised by remakes and reboots, soulless blockbusters which seem to be prioritising profit over pleasure, it’s almost a shock to be seeing a genuinely good, original movie. Directed by Fede Alvarez, creator of 2013’s Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe is 90 minutes of surging adrenaline, your heart in the back of your throat and the skin over your knuckles stretched bone white. He received perhaps more than his fair share of hate over Evil Dead, many writing him off as a hack who couldn’t make an original film, merely reinvent a classic. Don’t Breathe seems as though it were conceived in order for Alvarez to claim the title of a respectable director, an up yours to those who doubted his talents, and it feels fitting for a picture with malice at its very core to be born out of hatred.
There is no hero of the piece. The moral highground belongs to no one. Three deprived city kids, Rocky, Alex, and Money (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto, respectively) make their living by robbing the houses of the rich, stealing the keys from Alex’s father, who owns a security company. They are tipped off about a blind army veteran (Stephen Lang) living in the only occupied house in an abandoned Detroit neighbourhood, who is supposedly sitting on a $300,000 cash settlement given to him after a wealthy woman accidentally ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking an elderly, disabled man will be easy pickings, and planning to use the money to relocate to California, they decide to break in and take it for themselves. The Blind Man, it turns out, is far from easy pickings. The hunters quickly become the hunted.
They avoid triggering the security alarm when they enter the house, but what they do trigger is a series of twists and turns that would keep Hitchcock on his toes. The trailer gives away far too much – two major spoilers I’ll avoid revealing here – but despite having seen it before entering the cinema I was still left reeling in shock more times than I can count. At no point does the concept feel stretched or overworked. Don’t Breathe slickly avoids falling into the trap of so many films in the horror genre, of repeating the same scare until it becomes predictable and dull. Instead, the antagonist’s menace is just pushed further and further. He’s not just a man able to use his heightened senses and combat skills to terrorise a group of trespassing twenty somethings; he has more than a few skeletons in the closet of his own. The film is a Pandora’s box of shock and suspense, and once you’ve flipped the lid open and peered in it’s impossible to look away. That said, just as the Blind Man at one point plunges his victims into his world of darkness, the viewer too should try to enter the film blind.
Said darkness scene is beautifully crafted, shot in a muted greyscale. We may see, but the trespassers must stumble, mouths agape in fear, through the dark. It’s a welcome break from the cliche black and green night vision scenes viewers have become so used to. The cinematography is stunning throughout, with impressive colour work, the murky teals and tangerines in the Blind Man’s house a striking contrast to the full technicolour of the outside world.
Don’t Breathe crawls under your skin. It creeps up behind you in the dark, grabs your arm and refuses to let go. In moments of tension the soundtrack falls silent, and in the cinema the audience too are mute, as we are also invited not to breathe. It’s a masterpiece of horror cinema, palatable to the genre aficionado and the newcomer alike. Alvarez’s redemptive piece is not one to be missed.