Don't Breathe

Don’t Breathe is, ironically, is a breath of fresh air. This film executes on all of its major themes and ideas with precision and skill from beginning to end, resulting in what can only be called a modern horror classic that deserves to stand as defining icon of the genre. The few flaws Don’t Breathe exhibits don’t detract from the film as a whole. In just a few words, Don’t Breathe sets the bar for writing, directing, acting, and music in modern horror.

One of the early strengths of the film is in a strong start. It wastes no time on empty character development and jumps immediately into the meat of the film using effective and thoughtful story telling techniques to show us the stories for the characters. The movie follows the key rule of show, don’t tell. This allows it to provide large amounts of information about who are characters are and what their motivations are efficiently, allowing us to dive immediately into the meat of the story.

After a strong but brief establishment, the movie dives headfirst into its main premise, which is concise and clearly conveyed in the trailer for the film. Three burglars break into the home of a disabled senior, only to find themselves trapped and at his mercy. They struggle to survive, their one and only advantage his single inequality as they are in his home, where he knows the space. The writing shines even brighter as we dive into his story through their eyes, as the movie takes a sharp turn in the middle from slasher/thriller to real horror. Don’t Breathe is not for the faint of heart.

And this is where the directing really shines. The pacing is incredible through both the first and second act. As we spend our time outside of the house focused very much on the freedom of being able to make noise, damage property, and we’re surrounded as an audience with all the things that are distinctly absent once we move into the house. The sense of the need for silence is immediate and effective, and the director builds a deep and engrossing set of tension that holds up through the majority of the film.

Refreshingly, the movie is incredibly grounded. It spends this time orienting us and providing and expert sense of scale and space for the house so that we can follow along with exactly what is happening. And this is one of the places where the movie leaps to the foreground as a master work of horror: it may play with our sense of space, but it almost never cheats it. Don’t Breathe follows the rules, partly because it has to, but whatever the reason why, it is brilliant.

And everything reinforces these rules and the environment containing them: the sound, the music, the spacing and framing of each scene, and even the use of color. When the protagonists are at their most vulnerable, the old man fades into the dark and the whole world begins to feel hostile. That feeling of tension is fresh and grows intensely from the tension between the environment and the characters.

So where does the movie falter? There are a couple of places where some people may find this movie wanting. It falls victim to the tease of having too many moments that feel like a clear ending, only to fake the audience out and keep going. It actually would have been a better film if it had been a little shorter and had just a little less back and forth in the last 20 minutes.

Moreover, while Don’t Breathe generally avoids trite dialog (unlike its trailer), there is a key line of dialog that delivers a philosophy that many viewers will not agree with. The movie uses the old man and the environment to deliver a metaphorical monster, the monster of atheism. That’s not going to sit well with some people even though it is well delivered and is woven into the core of the film rather than pushed overtly through an overabundance of exposition, but it does at one point clearly verbalize this message.

While the movie’s message wont appeal universally, at least it has something to say. It is more than just an empty series of events. I feel that this is a strong point for the movie, and that it makes it a better film overall.

With all of that said, if you are at all a fan of horror, suspense, or thrillers, then this is a must see. An example of meticulous film making on every level, using all of the tools available to create an engaging and enthralling story drenched in tense and abrasive atmosphere. Don’t Breathe will be remembered for decades and with good reason, and I highly recommend you watch it.

Final Verdict:A modern horror classic that manages to be much more than just a themed thrill ride and a must see for genre fans.
Rating:C+