I’m back and I’m reviewing this summer’s most talked-about thriller, Don’t Breathe directed by Fede Alvarez. This is probably going to be my last hurrah since school starts in two days, I’m still working, and I’m officially on-call to work on my clinicals for mortuary school. I’m glad I got to see an amazing movie before my nose is back to the grindstone.
Before I start the review, I’d like to give a shout-out to Otto’s Tacos at 141 Second Ave. in New York City. I went there for post-movie tacos and churros with my best friend. The shrimp tacos were outstanding. There was a problem with our order of churros so they gave us a fresh order with extras. I was not expecting this many churros! The staff was nice and the food was great without being pricey so if you want good tacos on the east side then go to Otto’s.
I saw this poster at the movie theater (City Cinemas Village East, a really swell little theater) but there’s another one I’d rather discuss.
Can we take a moment to discuss this poster?
I know I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to poster design, but the late 1990s into the early 2000s were such a dead zone for poster design. I love Wes Craven but I wonder if it’s something to do with the movie Scream because that movie had the famous poster with the super-closeup of the character’s face and suddenly every movie poster was like that. Now, this poster is the kind where you can learn something about the movie instead of just telling you who it stars. I wonder if filmmakers who are close to my age (Fede Alvarez is five years older than me) remember how great poster and VHS artwork were in the 80s and are emulating that style. This poster looks like the kind of movie you’d choose at the rental store and you’d have to bargain with your mom before she let you rent it.
I also realized the poster reminded me of something but it took me a couple of days to put two and two together. It’s very similar to the poster for another Wes Craven flick, The People Under the Stairs.
Incidentally, this is also a movie about poor people robbing rich people although I have a lot more sympathy for the robbers in The People Under the Stairs. In Don’t Breathe, Rocky (Jane Levy from Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead), Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Alex (Dylan Minnette) rob rich people using information and keys that Alex gets from his father’s home security company. Rocky wants to run away with her sister from her family who are one step away from being Rob Zombie movie awful. They think they’ve found an easy score with nameless Blind Man (Stephen Lang), a blind veteran with a large settlement from his daughter’s wrongful death. Unfortunately for them, the Blind Man is physically formidable, smart, and mentally unhinged. Also, the Blind Man’s house is like Jame Gumb’s house if Jame Gumb cared less about couture and more about death traps. I can’t really say more about the story without giving away major spoilers.
Now, for those who are unfamiliar, The People Under the Stairs follows the protagonist named Fool. His mother has cancer and his family has just been evicted from their apartment by their slumlord landlords. Like in Don’t Breathe, Fool and his sister’s boyfriend decide to rob their landlord’s house because they supposedly have a stash of gold. I have greater sympathy for Fool because the stakes are so much higher for him. His mother is dying, their apartment is no longer theirs, and it’s not like he can just go out and get a job. I have a harder time mustering sympathy for the protagonists in Don’t Breathe, especially Alex. Alex’s character acts morally superior but he’s betraying his own father with every heist. At least Money is forthright about what they’re doing.
The movie was incredibly tense. It felt much quicker than its full length because I was so fully engaged with it. The cinematography was intense, especially when the gang first breaks into the Blind Man’s house. It captured how disorienting it must have been to be in this stranger’s house.
The music accented the action well and was actually quite beautiful while maintaining the tension. Plus, there were very few musical jump scares which is nice.
The visual effects were nice and very different-looking from the ones used in Evil Dead. Don’t let anyone say that Alvarez is a one trick pony. The makeup on Stephen Lang was also quite good, his scars and eyes looked painful but subtle.
The fight scenes were brutal and intense. One scene in particular gripped me, after the Blind Man discovers the gang in his house. He just starts punching the wall and that’s when you realize that he’s not just prepared to defend his home, he’s full of rage. I also liked a sequence in the basement after the Blind Man cuts the lights on the gang. What’s hunting someone in the dark to him? He already lives in the dark. The sequence definitely owes a bit to one of my favorite scenes in The Silence of the Lambs.
I like movies that make me think about the characters and ask questions about their lives. The Blind Man is such a compelling character for someone who doesn’t even have a name. Think about this, we’re given a clue to his daughter’s name (“Emma” is written on a wall in a bedroom in his house), but it’s like this guy is so forgotten by society that he doesn’t even get a name. Make no mistake, he does absolutely monstrous things that I won’t discuss because that is spoiler-heavy. But, at one point he had a family and people who loved him and that he loved. Where’s his wife? Does he have no friends left? Society has failed everyone in this movie but especially the Blind Man. People don’t just wake up monsters. I was actually so sad for him when I noticed that his daughter’s picture was upside down in one scene.
For me, there were two weak points. One was Money’s dialog. It didn’t sound convincing. I live in a neighborhood that isn’t as blighted as the Blind Man’s but is still pretty awful (A really bad major city in New Jersey). His dialog sounded the way people who aren’t from the hood think people in the hood talk.
The other weak point was this quirk with the cinematography. The camera would pan, then stop and focus on an object for slightly longer than necessary. Then you’d see the object come into play in a later scene. It was like this; “Pan across a workbench. Stop and focus on a hammer and hold for five seconds.” It was like being in a video game when an object is slightly highlighted so you know that Lara Croft can use it to solve an Incan puzzle. It was jarring and took me out of the moment.
What makes up for these issues are the actors’ performances. They were all believable. Jane Levy is put through the ringer (again after Evil Dead) but she makes a formidable Final Girl. Despite my criticism of the characters and dialog, Daniel Zovatto and Dylan Minnette bring a sincerity to their roles. They could have gone for stereotypes but didn’t. Stephen Lang brings a brutal gravitas to the role. A lesser actor could have dismissed the character and made it a cookie-cutter horror role. Here’s a quote from his recent Reddit AMA;
First thing in research is looking at behavior. You can find blind people doing extremely extraordinary things on the internet – jumping out of planes, driving cars, doing sculpture. It’s not what I was going to be doing but it makes you wonder – one can perceive blindness as a tremendous disability or explore all the different ways one can excel at being blind. I threw that into my internal mix, conceiving working through the phases of despair and self pity after his combat injuries, to work through that and arrive at a place of resilience and forward progress where he decides to not only survive but to assert himself. That was a great thing to learn. Many things contributed to the role, and it was very important to me to be familiar with the geography of my home. Moving through the house with speed and economy and confidence I was able to establish my sense of mastery over my own universe – which is vital – the king of the darkness as it were.
I’ve seen the Blind Man compared to the shark from Jaws but I think that Michael Myers is a better comparison. You can stab Michael Myers with a knitting needle, a knife, and a coat hanger, and then you can have Dr. Loomis shoot him six times but he always comes back. So does the Blind Man.
Do I recommend this movie? I do, it was an interesting, unique thriller. Honestly, my best friend and I guessed what the twist was going to be and we were right. But I’ve also watched and written about 231 horror movies, so that’s probably just my familiarity with the genre and not a reflection on the movie.
When people find out that I love the horror genre, the number one complaint I hear is “Nothing new is being made!” Well, this is new and unique. There are many compelling new horror films being released but people might just be looking for them in the wrong places.
If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss it, feel free to do so in the comments. If you haven’t seen this movie then don’t read below this point.