Many good things can be said about the home invasion movie, regardless of the genre, with the likes of Panic Room, The Purge and even Home Alone under its belt. And after all, such a movie has one of the most attractive features on its side: its premise, usually both simple and linear but with plenty of room for the narrative to have fun (even if it does tend to get claustrophobic in those enormous American homes).
From Fede Alvarez, the director of 2013’s gore-soaked Evil Dead remake, Don’t Breathe is a home invasion horror-thriller (a throller?) with a slight twist, where the intruders – or in this case, burglars – are our eyes and ears. Rocky, Alex and Money, three Detroit teenagers, decide their latest break-in will be into the home of a blind Army veteran (Avatar’s physically and verbally intimidating Stephen Lang), who allegedly has a six-figure pile of cash hidden in his house from a settlement after his daughter was killed by a drink driver some years before. But the trio soon learn that the “Blind Man” – a gun-wielding psychopath once awoken and provoked – doesn’t need eyes to see, when he engages in a nail-biting game of cat-and-mouse (and an equally-psychotic Rottweiler) to find them; locking down his house and combing every inch of it while the terrified teens desperately dodge him, but not without the creaking of floorboards and, of course, breathing.
Exchanging a megaton of brutal violence in his last film for solid suspense and knuckle-biting tension here, Alvarez’ Don’t Breathe is, undeniably, a shining example of true horror, relying only on violence (although still exceptionally brutal when delivered) to demonstrate the threat level, and filled with cleverly-constructed scenarios that see (or don’t see) our unlikely heroes just inches away from the Blind Man, sometimes completely unaware when he uses his own disadvantage against them.
But despite doing its best to avoid the use of violence like the intruders avoid the Blind Man’s muscular feelers, the film does, at one point, rely on the shock-factor when it ventures daringly into jaw-droppingly-grotesque territory, but consequently this only furthers the plot, thus making the stakes even higher for our characters. And while said-characters undoubtedly ask for trouble in the first place, it’s impossible not to root for them once they’re pitted against one of the deadliest foes to have graced the screens of horror in what feels like too long a time, even if they do sometimes act as though the Blind Man is also hard of hearing.
A taut, tense, insanely-satisfying, balls-to-the-wall thrill-ride, Don’t Breathe is one of the most genuinely nerve-wrenching “throllers” I have ever endured through the spaces between my fingers.