Don’t Breathe is fantastic

Photo courtesy Screen Gems.

As Suicide Squad begins to run out of steam, the director of the 2013 Evil Dead reboot drops off a late-summer gem in Don’t Breathe.

The movie follows three Detroit burglars — Rocky (Jane Levy), the ringleader and her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and lovestruck keyman Alex (Dylan Minnette). The trio struggles even outside the law, but Money learns that a blind man (Stephen Lang) in a deserted neighborhood is sitting on $300,000 in cash. They go to his house to rob him in the night, but he awakens, discovers them and kills Money. Rocky and Alex continue an intense game of cat and mouse with the blind man.

Don’t Breathe has the goods. It’s a taut, well thought-out and wonderfully executed thriller, with home invasion and claustrophobia subgenres blended seamlessly together as the burglars and home owner each ride the line between hunter and hunted.

Don’t Breathe suffers from a relatively thin premise, which is squeezes every ounce of tension and suspense out of and still comes to just 87 minutes. This stretching results in every plot point being given weight and attention. Every decision the protagonists make is discussed at some length, and writer/director Fede Alvarez lingers on as many details as possible. Despite this, the movie never feels like it’s wasting time — and definitely wastes no time getting to the main event. Don’t Breathe spends next to no time at all introducing its characters and setting up the plot, because they’re not what matters here. It all comes together to make the movie feel alive. While you’re getting less bang for your buck in one way because of the runtime, you’re getting more in another because so much of that runtime is devoted to the action.

A ton of attention was put into the deceptively twisty story as well. While ostensibly clever characters doing stupid things is a timeless horror trope, pretty much every decision by both the blind man and the burglars makes sense. This extends their conflict and further pads the movie’s runtime.

Just because it doesn’t set any time aside to set up its story doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one. This is a subtle thing, but an aspect of genre movies that can be either very good or very bad is how a movie incorporates its story into its action. In some movies there’s a sharp divide between action scenes and plot-moving scenes, and the whole thing feels choppy — the Star Wars prequels are a good example of this aspect gone wrong. But when it’s done well, and Don’t Breathe does it superbly, the movie can tell a hefty story without ever pausing the action. Don’t Breathe’s characters are complex and flawed, and its plot is as intricate as a full-blown mystery movie.

I won’t spoil it, but as this mystery unravels, it gets pretty nasty. There’s more than just violence in this movie. This could easily become a negative, but I think it’s a good thing. Too many movies aren’t as hardcore as they want or need to be. You should come away from this sort of movie shocked and a little sick. You should have seen things you didn’t want to. Just, be warned is all.

Don’t Breathe will release Aug. 26.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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