By: Kevin Jordan
That tagline will make sense later, but for now let’s talk about the latest horror flick to cross the silver screen – Don’t Breathe. Also, this is the earliest SPOILER alert you will ever get from me.
The premise is simple – three young burglars pick the wrong house to rob. The plot is also simple – will the burglars survive the night in the house or will the blind, Iraq-war veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives there kill them all? It’s your standard slasher, cabin-in-the-woods flick with very morally ambiguous characters. The real question you will have is who to root for? On one hand, the burglars deserve what’s coming to them. It takes a special kind of asshole to rob a blind war veteran, especially, a blind war veteran whose daughter was killed in a car accident. And, yes, the burglars know all of this information prior to the burglary because their goal is to steal the settlement money the man got from the family of the girl that killed his daughter. On the other hand, the movie will reveal some very disturbing things about the Blind Man (I’d love to tell you the Blind Man’s name, but it is never given, his character is literally listed as The Blind Man in the credits) that will make you think twice about rooting for him. In other words, flip a coin.
Of course, that coin is weighted. Of the three burglars, only one of them truly deserves death – Money (Daniel Zovatto). Yes, that’s his real name and the first glimpse we get of him is during an earlier robbery in which he is breaking things for no reason and pissing all over the kitchen. He comes by his assholery honestly and is purely in this for the money. Conversely, Rocky (Jane Levy) is just trying to score enough money so she can take her young sister to California to escape her dead-beat mother. She’s the easiest one to root for as our third burglar, Alex (Dylan Minnette), doesn’t seem to have a motivation at all. His dad works for a home security company and they seem to be doing just fine, especially considering this is happening in Detroit. Alex uses his dad’s access (in the form of passwords, remotes, and keys) to target and rob homes that use said security service. The best motivation I can come up with for Alex is an apparent crush on Rocky (whose boyfriend is Money), but that’s a pretty thin reason to commit larceny. He’s also the brains of the outfit, constantly reminding the crew what they should and shouldn’t do in order to avoid felony charges should they be caught. He even warns them against robbing the blind man, initially refusing outright, and then ditching them during the penultimate robbery when Money brandishes a gun. Plus, he’s also cautioning them that he doesn’t want to get his dad in trouble, which begs the earlier question – what the hell is Alex even doing this for?
As a standard slasher flick, the movie is pretty tight, but not without flaws. They avoid several of the standard horror movie clichés, but not all of them. A great example is the lack of a double-tap. At one point, Alex clocks the Blind Man in the head with a hammer, twice, then handcuffs him in the basement. The problem is that the Blind Man regains consciousness extremely quickly and even holds a conversation with the remaining burglars before they attempt their next escape. The obvious fix for this is to just leave the Blind Man unconscious because, either way, we know he’s not done. It’s just more believable my way.
If there’s one major flaw with the movie, it’s in the unevenness of the directing. Parts of the movie are masterfully done to create great levels of tension and misdirection while other parts come off like an elementary school play. There are unnecessary zoom-ins on props and set pieces that scream “this will come into play later,” robbing the viewer of any kind of satisfaction of recognizing those things without prompting. There is the terribly misused “let’s show the viewer something at the beginning of the movie that actually happens much later” technique that serves no purpose other than to tell the viewer that a character is going to make it at least until you see that scene again, thus destroying the viewer’s belief that said character might die at any moment. Finally, there are lots of plot elements that you have to just live with if you want a chance to enjoy the movie. (Again – SPOILER ALERT) Don’t ask how a blind man managed to kidnap the girl who killed his daughter. Don’t ask why the Blind Man is the only resident in an entire neighborhood filled with abandoned, dilapidated homes (his home is just fine). Don’t ask why the Blind Man’s senses seem to come and go as the plot requires (he can smell stinky shoes, but not stinky feet. He doesn’t notice or hear the person in the hallway that he misses running into by less than an inch). Don’t ask why a guy holding a hostage in the basement would have an alarm system capable of alerting the police. Don’t ask why security-service-dad keeps a drawer full of keys to his clients’ houses in his desk at home or why said service would have those keys at all (would you trust ADT with the keys to your house?!) And don’t ask why the news report following the conclusion doesn’t mention the weird room in the basement.
But, like I said, there are great elements in the movie as well. The best is when the Blind Man kills the power and we are treated to him hunting Rocky and Alex in his maze of a basement, shot in grey night-vision. There are long takes of the burglars exploring the house upon their initial entry that lend depth and direction to the house. And then there’s the turkey baster scene that will make you fear Thanksgiving for the rest of your life. All I will tell you about it is that the entire audience realized what was going on in unison, uttering a theater-wide groan in revulsion at the revelation. Yes, I said turkey baster.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back. My “don’t ask” questions can’t be completely ignored.