Review: Don’t Breathe

Good movies lure you in and don’t leave you even after the credits roll. Unfortunately, the 2016 Crime/Thriller movie by Fede Álvarez didn’t quite do that. My friend had been asking me to watch Don’t Breathe for a more than a few months, and with nothing else to do on a Saturday night, I decided to give in. What I got was a below-average movie, buoyed only because of its somewhat impressive plot and entirely inoffensive use of light, camera work and sound.

Although I hate summarising the plot, I need to do so to provide context. Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Alex (Dylan Minnette) are three friends from Detroit who rob houses to sustain themselves. In order to run away to California, they decide to steal one last time. They pick a blind, retired veteran’s (Stephen Lang) house, and hope that it would be an easy mission. Things, however, go wrong as the man fights back and kills Zovatto. The remainder of the movie is centred around the thieves’ escape from the house.

This basic plot kept me interested through at least two-thirds of the movie. The scenes involving Levy and Minnette’s escape from a locked house with a blind veteran with a sharp aim on their heels are realistic and engaging. This is especially true when, for, a brief time the two remaining thieves are forced to run through his house in the dark, losing the one advantage they have over the veteran – sight. These scenes are cleverly thought of and well executed. There are more than few genuinely scary moments scattered across the movie. These scenes are also exciting because they rely entirely upon visuals to communicate the scene, with little to no dialogue.

The paucity of dialogue is an even bigger advantage for the film considering how terrible the dialogues are. At one point, Zovatto, who is supposed to embody a ‘gangsta’ aesthetic (complete with tattoos and smoking pot) says unconvincingly of Levy who has entered the house through a bathroom window to let the other two in, “That’s my bitch in there.” In addition to poor dialogue, the movie is genuinely hurt by poor characters. It is almost a feat that in a movie with four lead characters, I found myself not rooting for anyone. Minnette, with his performance of a friendzoned thief with morals is entirely unconvincing. As is his rattling of state laws for different crimes at any given instance. Levy’s expressions, one the other hand, are able to carry the emotions of terror that the characters are supposed to be feeling. Stills of her terrified face and wide eyes may even remind one of Alexis Bledel in one of the execution scenes of The Handmaid’s Tale, of course, minus the latter’s brilliance.

The film tries too hard to evoke sympathies for its characters, particularly those of Lang and Levy. From the very beginning it is established that Levy’s propensity to steal comes from her fucked-up family dynamics. (Why do the other two do it? Who knows.) Lang has a woman locked up in his basement, but that is only because she killed his daughter. He has impregnated her, but professes that he didn’t rape her, but rather, artificially inseminated her. By this point, I was simply rolling my eyes. I assume that the writers of the film (Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues) hoped that these revelations would lead to complex characters with shades of grey. They do nothing of the sort, and all of the characters end up falling flat. I also had a problem with the pacing of the film. It is quite difficult to imagine that a 90-minute film feels too long, particularly when I am used to watching 3-hour long Bollywood films. But the chase sequences featuring Levy and Lang (complete with a dog helping him) do get tedious after a while.

When I started watching the movie, I thought to myself, let me see how sound and camera angles are used to convey feelings of terror. This movie didn’t succeed in helping me pin-point that. And I’m not sure if that is a point in the film’s favour or not. I wish I had started this blog by examining a film I liked more, and had more to say about. But there is no harm in watching the movie, particularly if you have nothing else to do on a Saturday night.