“Don’t Breathe” - Fede Alvarez
Fede Alvarez has a lot of strengths, but dialogue isn’t one of them. If you happened to watch his first film, 2013’s Evil Dead remake, you know it’s not exactly the sort of thing you’ll be quoting next week. It’s real strengths are its polished visuals and forward momentum, traits that Alvarez’s first original feature preserves. Much like its predecessor, Don’t Breathe also works best when “everyone stops talking,” in the words of a friend - when the cursory attempts at emotional investment and the general padding of the first twenty-ish minutes subsumes to the film’s hooky premise of three burglars versus a blind killing machine.
It works really well, actually. Soon after our protagonists pry their way into the Blind Man’s home, we’re treated to an impressive long-take shot as they make their way around, checking into each room and eventually up the stairs to where the Blind Man sleeps. Major points to Alvarez and his cast for making a glorified tour of the main set so riveting. I found myself smiling. There are plenty of other scenes of this nature, some featured in the trailer, which samples one of the movie’s best: a chase in a dark basement filmed through a sort of hazy night vision lens. Alvarez does well with other horror-house staples like the barricaded-in-a-bedroom and crawl-through-the-air-vents sequences. What I didn’t expect, but found even more rewarding, was a lot of deadpan humor baked in right alongside the movie’s gory, gross second half. I’m not sure there’s a way to explain without spoilers, but suffice to say that the movie manages to show us a hammer and a turkey baster and somehow shock us with the least likely of the two.
Seriously, I almost screamed.
The Blind Man is a great villain, and the editing slyly plays him up. As another friend pointed out, we rarely see him enter the frame, if ever: he’s often just there, wreaking havoc, and two fast-cuts later he’s in the next room terrorizing one of our other protagonists, or outside, or two floors up, or in the basement...and so forth. It might seem like bad film-making out of context, but his apparent powers of teleportation fit right in amid the mounting absurdity, which is so po-faced you’ll be tempted to take it seriously. Please, don’t do that. Don’t Breathe wants you clutching your armrests, sure, but it also wants you to laugh. You can feel the influence working on Evil Dead had on Alvarez in this respect, as that movie also cracked a smile under all the viscera from time to time. It may have been a little harder to see through the hypersensitive lens through which we watch remakes of beloved properties, but it’s much more apparent here.
That turkey baster, man.
It’s weakest moments can all be traced back to the dialogue and elementary character archetypes, which are worse than Evil Dead’s. Jane Levy has an abusive mother. This robbery is her way out. Her friend pouts in her direction when she’s not looking. He’s got a thing for her. The throwaway gangsta character mixes up the words “settlement” and “sediment.” One scene goes exactly as you’d expect when Jane Levy mentions God. “God?” says the Blind Man, prepping the turkey baster. “There isn’t any God. It’s a joke.” A little later, he adds “A man can do anything when he stops believing in God” as justification for what he’s done and will do. For what it’s worth, I would have preferred the Blind Man remained the Michael Meyers-ish figure he appears to be for most of the movie, silent but inhumanly brutal. Giving him lines - worse, a philosophy - cheapens his role and reeks of overthinking. Too many villains these days have philosophies. Give us simple evil. It’s an eighty-eight minute on-the-sly redo of People Under the Stairs, dammit. There’s no time!
If you enjoyed 2013’s Evil Dead, wished The People Under the Stairs was a little grittier, and don’t mind second-guessing your turkey this Thanksgiving, buy yourself a ticket to Don’t Breathe as soon as possible. It’s a good time.
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