(2016, Fede Alvarez]
[4.5 out of 5 stars]
[Image courtesy of Sony Pictures]
Horror films set in motion moments of fear by putting characters in danger of something. It asks us to care because we don’t want to see somebody harmed by this monster, or that ghost, or whatever that is signifying peril. But in Alvarez’ intelligently made film about a robbery inside a blind man’s home, the fear comes from both ways. The moments of horror arise when two parties collide. It’s the very conflict itself that we anticipate and put our hands over our eyes over.
Who do we care for in this scenario? The ones committing the crime after being shown the reasons why they needed the money that sits inside that house. Or do we fear for the vulnerable victim's life who lives alone, unable to see, and who lost his child from a tragic car accident, that is, until we realise that he’s not as vulnerable as we assumed. In fact, he becomes frighteningly invulnerable.
I think I’ve said this before in another review about a horror movie but I really love it when horror filmmakers toy with audiences in this way. There’s an internal tug-of-war that happens as the story unfolds. I love being emotionally and morally manipulated in such a way that a film reaches to the deepest, darkest part of ourselves and grabs hold of whatever is in there.
In many ways, the title DON’T BREATHE is an apt one. I held my own breath during key moments in the film. I was in a large theatre with a big crowd and judging from the near silent reaction during those scenes, everyone else was holding their breaths too. The title is also in reference to the suppression of our flight or flee instincts. It takes a lot of courage and control to resist that instinct and the entire movie is about wreaking havoc with those primal instincts: don’t breathe, don’t move, don’t run. Even when a gun is being pointed at you or a blind, angry man is mere inches away from your face.
There’s a lot of technical brilliance at work in order to execute these manipulations. There’s an extended tracking shot in the beginning that moves through the house stopping and focusing on objects and spaces that will become significant later on. It orientates the viewer spatially which becomes very important as every nook and cranny of this house is utilised. The architectural and interior components play their parts as hiding spots, escape routes and other things I will not mention.
The one scene that really shook me to my core, both in the horror of the situation and admiration of the director who created the situation, is during the blackout scene in the basement. I’m not quite sure how it was filmed but it’s the most intense scene set in the dark I’ve ever seen. Everyone is in the dark except the audience. We see everything. The dilated pupils of the terrified robbers gave me shivers.
We’ve been treated to some inventive and technically rigorous horror films recently but I think this one might outshine the rest. You’ll love this if you like horror films, or if you just admire painstaking filmmaking.