My recent trips to the cinema have seen most features squeeze their contents into a nice digestible 90 or so minutes. What you get there is movies riding the cost-effective see-saw between detail and duration, with most scraping on the former in order to keep our attention. Don’t Breathe however possessed something I have not seen in a while. A film that has twists, detail, action, character and most importantly entertainment all within an adrenaline crunching 88 minutes. A feat often sought and seldom achieved.
Don’t Breathe in its simplest form follows three young adults who break into houses to earn enough money to leave their crumbling neighbourhood in Detroit in hope of moving to a sunnier future in California. In order to make that final score that will set them up for life, they break into a house owned by a blind ex-soldier who sits on a goldmine (metaphorically speaking) and expect a quick snatch job, only to discover this one won’t be so easy.
Once the initial exposition is over and done with Don’t Breathe does not let up. It’s relentless in its attack on the senses, interweaving action, thriller and most importantly horror elements that grabs you, excites you and most of all shocks you time after time. As the film gets towards its final act you’re literally gasping for breathe. Every time a character appears to finally seize a momentary pause they’re quickly thrown back into a twisted cat and mouse game, making sure you never feel comfortable until the curtain finally comes down. Once it finally does, the first thing you do is breathe a huge sigh of relief, giving you your first opportunity to digest what you’ve seen.
The title of the film brings in one of its most successful features with credit to Director Fede Alvarez. With the blind man rummaging through his house in search of the trio of robbers all he has to go on is the sound they make, from footsteps and chatter to each carefully drawn breathe. With the few solitary restful moments all background noise is cut so that all you hear is the panting breathe of the characters that you end up matching as you watch on. One scene in particular where the lights are cut (think the closing of Rec) is beautiful Hitchcockian film making, allowing the audience to see the peril that lay ahead and watch as the characters helplessly gravitate toward it.
As far as thrillers go Don’t Breathe is almost perfect. The narrative, which I initially thought was fairly simple, becomes surprisingly interesting and intricate as the film goes on with twists and turns throughout that are built atop the action rather than in between it. The only thing that stops Don’t Breathe from being flawless is that it doesn’t know where to stop, at points becomes too gratuitous for its own good. At one point most of the audience around me were enveloped in an uncomfortable squeamish laughter, and that’s not the emotion you won’t to put across in a movie like this. A smell blemish however in what was a perfectly inventive thriller.