Hey it’s October again, so let’s watch a bunch of horror movies! Not that I don’t throughout the rest of the year but you know…. Anyway, as last year I’m going to try and to get through a big franchise (or 2) and catch up with a number of recent horror movies that I’ve missed this month. As luck would have it, the recent horror hit Don’t Breathe was released where I live on October 1st so I began the month with it.
I wasn’t particularly keen on Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake of The Evil Dead. He definitely showed some directorial chops with his debut, but it soon devolved into relentlessly bludgeoning its audience with a torrent of gore effects that just became numbing. I’m glad to see him following it up with a promising-sounding original horror property though, hopefully allowing him to expand his repertoire, and reputation.
Don’t Breathe isn’t just another gore effects showcase I’m happy to note, and thankfully, not a watered down PG-13 horror either. Alvarez has his violence under control; it’s there when required, and effective at that, but on the whole, this film left me with a similar feeling to his Evil Dead, that most of the potential Alvarez demonstrates in the first half is scuppered by the final act.
The film follows a group of small-time criminals who spend their time carefully robbing local houses. Alvarez wastes little time with back story but gives us a glimpse of lead Roxanne’s (Jane Levy) awful home life which proves sufficient enough to garner her some sympathy. The same can’t be said for the team’s ringleader “Money” (Daniel Zovatto), an unrepentant criminal, or really its other member Alex (Dylan Minnette), who seems to be primarily motivated by his unrequited feelings for Roxanne.
The trio decide to target the house of a blind army veteran (Stephen Lang) who they believe is harbouring a substantial stack of cash. Things don’t go to plan of course, and soon they find themselves trapped in a house with a dangerous armed man out to find them.
A lot of the horror beats in Don’t Breathe resemble a number of familiar haunted house horror and slasher movies, but it undeniably gains a distinct element by having the threatening entity – in this case a man with a gun – be blind, while the people trying to avoid him are not, requiring them to try and be as quiet as possible lest they give away their location. Alvarez handles these stalking sequences very well, in particular an innovative sequence in which all the lights are turned off and he switches to complete darkness, then fades in a grey scale type night vision that both reflects the characters’ plight and gives the audience a one-up on what they can see, a factor that avoids really cheap frights.
Alvarez holds off on using too many obvious jump scares as well, with the few he has actually tending to have an extra element of creepiness due to the lack of loud sound effects to emphasize them. In fact one reveal – one that changes the whole situation for everybody – proves to be particularly startling and memorable.
Unfortunately, this moment also marks the point where Don’t Breathe starts to head swiftly downhill. It reveals something about Lang’s character that adds a real level of unpleasantness to the previous, somewhat justified threatening presence he was. This angle is only taken further as events progress, and handled even more strangely. If Alvarez wished to take his fun slasher horror into dark, disturbing territory that’s one thing, but after beginning to do so he shoots and edits the whole sequence as if he’s aiming for morbid laughs. It just doesn’t work at all and is compounded further by Lang uttering one of the single most irritating lines of dialogue I’ve heard in a horror movie to somehow ‘justify’ his actions.
The film shows more and more signs that it’s running out of ideas through its third act, which culminates in a frankly stupid sequence in which the primary threat is now an average sized dog, which the film treats as if it’s some kind of unstoppable monster. It winds up feeling to have rather outstayed its welcome.
As I said, there is again, enough in this film’s first half to suggest that Fede Alvarez has talent, and may well deliver a great horror movie at some point in the future, but he’s still working towards it. His second film is ultimately one that betrays its early suspense thrills for ventures into misplaced, needless unpleasantry and silliness, quite a shame really.