The experience of watching Fede Alvarez’s tense, kinetic horror picture “Don’t Breathe” is like if someone came up behind you, grabbed you by your shoulders, stuck a knife into your back and forced you to sit straight up on the edge of your seat for the full ninety minute run time.
At the advanced screening I attended you could feel the electricity in the air—left and right people were cringing and covering their eyes, or laughing out of discomfort. The entire room was under the movie’s control. When the end credits rolled the room was buzzing. To simply call “Don’t Breathe” tense would be a massive under statement. If “The Witch” (another superb horror flick from 2016) was a dread infused, atmospheric slow burn, “Don’t Breathe” is relentlessly visceral and brutal. You walk out feeling shaken and beaten down, though in a good way. Any movie that can evoke that kind of physical response (especially a horror film) is more than worthy of your time.
You won’t hear much from me in terms of plot because it’s better to go into “Don’t Breathe” knowing as little as possible. Three young house thieves: Rocky (Jane Levey), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) think they’ve just scored the perfect heist. An old decrepit house in an otherwise abandoned neighborhood, populated by an elderly blind army vet (played with quiet, snarling menace by Stephen Lang). When they get there, things go wrong and soon the three find themselves trapped in the house fighting for their lives. As the night goes on and our thieves uncover more nooks and crannies of their dilapidated prison cell, the situation becomes far more twisted and disturbing than they could have ever imagined.
Alvarez is incredibly smart when it comes to crafting horror and tension. Considering that the picture spends most of its time pacing down dark corridors inside a creaking old house, he rarely goes for the easy jump scare. Instead, like any great horror film, the picture strongly relies on build up and anticipation. Some of the best scenes in the movie aren’t the brutal ones (although there are some spectacular “Oh god no!” moments, one involving a turkey baster) but the calm, quiet moments in between the brutality.
For a movie that can be so vicious, “Don’t Breathe” is made with gracefulness. Cinematographer Pedro Luque uses smooth, meticulous camera movements as opposed to jerky, choppy shaky camera to capture the action. “Don’t Breathe” is hectic and chaotic without being disorienting; you always know what’s going on and what each character is doing.
There’s plenty more I could discuss but I’m going to leave it at that. “Don’t Breathe” encounters a few bumps along the way; there are some cheap jump scare moments involving a vicious dog and it kind of goes overboard on the slow motion near the end. But overall the film is damn good; tense, terrifying and cleverly made. If the reaction at my preview screening is any indication, Alvarez’s picture is going to play extremely with the horror crowd.