So. Three young friends in Detroit have been making a killing with burglaries. Rocky (Jane Levy) has very good reasons to escape her hellish home existence, so we establish sympathy for her even though she's breaking the law. Alex (Dylan Minnette) has the conscience, but he also has all of the home security codes the team requires because he just happens to be the son of the security CEO (which ought to make any viewer with a home security system quite nervous). And Money (Daniel Zovatto) delights in petty and vulgar acts of vandalism while on the job, so he's the one you're not supposed to like at all.
"The word" has it that a disabled Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang of AVATAR and all the sequels nobody really asked for but which we're going to get anyway, whose character is otherwise unnamed) is sitting on a mountain of cash after prevailing in a wrongful death lawsuit involving his own daughter. Oh, and he lives in an otherwise abandoned area of the city that the cops don't even bother patrolling. It seems all for the better that the man turns out to be completely blind, vicious Rottweiler or not. All together now... "What could possibly go wrong?" Cue Murphy.
The actual film could have gone wrong in so many ways, but director Fede Alvarez (EVIL DEAD redux) has an iron grip on the intensity once the clueless trio blunders into the blind man's clutches. They haven't factored in that the loss of one sense heightens the remaining ones; or that the man in question is a highly-trained combat soldier who knows exactly how to deal with threats.
For a pure, raw survival thriller, DON'T BREATHE rubs shoulders with GREEN ROOM itself in effect (yep, right down to the dog), if not necessarily plausibility... but you don't get to think about the latter till later. Hindsight will acknowledge a couple of unlikely lucky breaks keyed to make the audience gasp while allowing the story to continue, but the predicaments themselves will almost certainly cause the viewer to live up to the movie's title, even if one of them was cribbed directly from THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK. Tell me that the slowly cracking glass doesn't work anymore.
Now, even if you haven't seen the actual film (which delightfully topped the weekend box office), you probably saw the trailer, which let it slip that there's even more going on downstairs in the hellhole. There certainly is, but thankfully the publicity machine stopped short of actual spoilers. Now about that other business. I won't spoil it, either, but it takes the already harsh and relentless situation into a much queasier realm, and neither Alvarez nor co-writer Rodo Sayagues could quite restrain themselves from indulging in a moment that truly pushes the limits of (yes, even in the horror field)... taste.
Okay, if you've already seen the film you're already preparing to slap me for that comment. Believe me. I don't want it to come to that.
(Sigh) I deserved that.
Seriously, though. That ONE moment had the detrimental effect of taking me out of the film momentarily (and I presume it had the same effect on the rest of the audience, as they spent the next several minutes trying to shake that off as opposed to sitting stock-still in their seats and biting their nails as they wondered how the scenario was going to turn out).
Nevertheless, the movie recovered quickly enough and responded by ratcheting the final tension up that much higher and by refusing to leave its viewers on a comforting note (no matter HOW it turns out, which I can't even hint at here).
The success of DON'T BREATHE is a reassuring step in the right direction for all fans of all things "horror."
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