Monday, August 29, 2016

[Review] Don't Breathe

If this year's home invasion flick with a deaf protagonist Hush and the hostage suspense-thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane (save for the last 10 minutes) had an insane baby together, you'd get Fede Alvarez's impressive new horror film Don't Breathe.

A thief trio comprised of Dylan Minette (Goosebumps), Jane Levy, and Daniel Zovatto have their own Bling Ring operation going on, except instead of glitzy LA they're robbing places in the crumbling Motor City. They set sights on the house of an old blind Army Vet (Stephen Lang) who's sitting on a large sum of settlement money, but it turns out the guy is beyond prepared for a night like this.

Once in the house, Alvarez keeps the tension and stress high with engrossing long takes (or at least the illusion of long takes) through dark and glaringly silent hallways. No paranormal activity will be found here, but it's still a primed atmosphere for shocking jolts and eerie, heart-racing beats. The film utilizes intense sensory details, such as amplified sounds in hollow rooms and disorienting visual tricks. A sequence when the lights go out and the characters have to navigate through a pitch-black (hazy grey to the audience) basement is particularly unnerving. A pair of disturbing reveals in the narrative really up the stakes and set off the slasher/torture genre alarms. There's one divisive and triggering scene that reminded me of a sickening story that could've been ripped from the headlines, reiterating how real-life atrocities can be more horrific than supernatural fiction. But when the tables turn during that scene, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Stick it to the man."

Director Fede Alvarez's main credit is 2013's Evil Dead, which I wasn't a huge fan of--mostly because it simply suffered from remake syndrome. But now with him at the helm of a more original feature, he makes a convincing case that he's a horror director to watch out for. It's also intriguing how Don't Breathe is set in a decaying Detroit, which is becoming a notable location for many horror films as a desperate and forgotten ghost town, whether it's the indie vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive, the creepy and much-praised It Follows, this year's jump scare fest Lights Out, the promising Keith Stanfield-starring short King Ripple, or even Ryan Gosling's stark fantasy Lost River.

Don't Breathe is a skillful exercise in ratcheted tension, proving how a few major obstacles and significant twists (and a relentlessly vicious dog) within a confined setting can go a long way. In fact, there are several moments in the final act when you think the film might end, but it doesn't. ("Just when I thought I was out... They pull me back in!") The terror just keeps coming and coming, so much so that even after the screen cuts to the credits, it still doesn't quite feel like we're in the clear.

( 8/10 )

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1 comment:

  1. Good review. I agree that the film's best scene is in the basement where all the lights go out, it reminded of the climax in Silence of the Lambs.

    Very good film indeed, but for me it failed to get the unsympathetic characters sympathetic.