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Don't Breathe (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DON'T BREATHE (2016)

Starring: Jane Levy, Stephen lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto

Written By: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Directed By: Fede Alvarez

The Shot

Don’t Breathe certainly does its job delivering jumps and cringes, but it’s also exceptionally fatiguing to watch despite a sub-90 runtime, and it ends up going somewhere this kind of flick just isn’t supposed to go.  For fans of approaching-real-world survival horror, it can work – I won’t be shocked if this turns into a genre staple at some point – but I don’t think I’ll ever want to watch it again.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

NASTY NACHO CHEESE BURRITO.

It should be tasty, but it doesn’t feel so good when you’re finished with it.


Pairs Well With...

RAIL WHISKEY.

It seems like a good idea during Happy Hour, but…

“Get out of my house!”


The year 2016 has been a fairly decent one for theatrical-release horror thus far.  The latest entry to the party: Don’t Breathe, a zero-haunting, down-to-Earth survival horror flick that relies on the nastiness of normal, non-possessed human beings for its chills.

Early numbers suggest that it’s going to do very well, and I can’t say that I’m surprised.  It is, after all, well filmed, decently acted where it counts (Jane Levy is outstanding as a Millennial take of the classic Final Girl, and Stephen Lang has the whole Badass Horrible Man thing down to a science), and oh yes, it is creepy and disturbing.  All things considered, one would think that should all add up to a horror home run. 

Except that it’s not.

On paper, Don’t Breathe has potential.  The premise – some down-on-their-luck young people hope to score big by robbing a reportedly rich blind man’s house, only to learn that the blind man is hardly defenseless against their intrusion and is in fact hiding something much nastier than money in the basement – works well enough.  (We agree, as moviegoers, to accept the silly idea that of course the man, who is not a drug dealer or a mobster, stores his wealth in the form of stacks of ready cash instead of, you know, depositing it in a frickin’ bank.  Because trope.)  But from a very early point in the film, that potential breaks down, and the result is something ugly and tiresome.

With a runtime of an hour and twenty-eight minutes, Don’t Breathe feels much longer not because of slow pacing, but rather because it’s just so damn fatiguing.  Starting at roughly a half hour in, the movie’s one major shock occurs, coinciding with the first moment when an audience member silly enough to watch this flick with brain engaged could say that the movie could easily have (and perhaps should have) ended right there.  From that moment on, the rate at which jumps and cringes occur is completely and utterly predictable; even if one doesn’t know quite what is coming, it’s easy to figure out (almost to the second) when and (with fair accuracy) where the “what” will be.  (Think of it as a cadence of “they’re doing okay BUT;” jump on the “BUT.”) What’s more, this happens so often with no sense of resulting forward motion that it quickly becomes tiresome, especially since roughly every third of these moments again feels like it could/should be the end of the movie.  Far from being exciting, the “jump” moments of Don’t Breathe end up becoming not just exhausting but in fact boring by the time it’s all over, so that when the epilogue moment finally does arrive, the predictable “last thing” is easy to look upon with outright scorn.

If there were even two ounces of fun (a-la camp slasher style) to be found between the credit rolls of Don’t Breathe, it might have worked.  But no: this one definitely falls under the heading of “mirthless horror.”

Even so, had Don’t Breathe been provided with some kind of interesting atmosphere (like, say, the isolated doom of Alien or the creepy abandoned sanitarium of Session 9), the mirthlessness could have worked.  But no: there’s no real atmosphere to speak of, just jump scares.

If Don’t Breathe had ever at any time felt creative in its approach (like, say, slow roasting a victim in a sleeping bag hanging over a campire), perhaps it could have worked.  But no: it’s so grounded in normality that one could honestly question its classification as “horror,” even with its creepy elements.

And maybe, just maybe, if there was anyone worth rooting for in Don’t Breathe, it might have been easier to take.  But no: the thieves bring it on themselves (the one the audience is supposed to sympathize with the most is in fact the instigator), and the Blind Man is just… no.  (Though disturbingly enough, I can imagine way too many people thinking he’s completely justified… in all of his actions.  I don’t want to know those people.)

But regardless of anything else, there is one Very Bad Line that Don’t Breathe crosses that I just can’t agree to under any circumstances, and sadly, the major component of it is torn from real world headlines.

Sex has a definite place in horror films, but that place is consensual, either as simple eye candy to ease the pressure of the evil and/or as an excuse to become slasher bait (e.g. sex = death) or as part of the whole devil/succubus thing.  Sex crime is altogether different.  Murder, mutilation, sure; but rape – even “stopped in the nick of time” – is absolutely beyond the pale.  Don’t Breathe goes beyond the pale, and there is just no entertainment in that.  Of any kind.  At all.

But even had that element not been present here, Don’t Breathe still wouldn’t have worked for me.  Sure, the cast does its job and the cinematographer does his, but when I walked out of theatre after the end credits started rolling (no, I didn’t stay the whole way through like I usually do), I just felt lousy.  Not “creeped out but still entertained” as with something like Session 9 or “wasn’t exactly fun but that atmosphere was something else” as with The Witch, but rather, just lousy.  Yes, I love horror flicks, but this… this just was not entertaining.

With that said, I have no doubt that Don’t Breathe will find itself a large audience willing to turn it into a staple – the numbers suggest that it already has – but as for me… count me out.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2016


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