Saturday, September 10, 2016

Movie Review: DON'T BREATHE (Review #2)

Small time house thieves Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) think they have just found the perfect house to rob and end it all. In the middle of a deserted neighborhood they discover a blind veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives in a house alone and he is sitting on three hundred thousand dollars in cash. Ready to get the money and flee to California, the three enter the house convinced it is going to me smooth and easy when they discover that there might be much more trouble than they anticipated.

In his second full length feature, director Fede Alvarez demonstrates a confidence in style and storytelling that is really rare to find and appreciate in a horror picture. Don't Breathe is a masterful effort with many layers, surprises, and excellent characters.

What apparently seems to be a simple, straightforward premise is turned on its head and made into a picture of incredible complexity, which, thanks to magnificent craft, flows effortlessly as a horror-thriller with a heft in suspense that I had not experienced in a while. The way in which, ironically, the film doesn't let you catch a breath is astonishing. There isn't a moment of calm. Stuff just keeps on happening, obstacle after obstacle. The way the characters are always in danger, they are never given a dull moment, it simply keeps rolling and you roll with it. The intensity of suspense sustained throughout the whole film is breathtaking.

The style of the film too is something really special that deserves a deeper analysis than one that I could give upon a first time viewing. The way the beautiful long tracking shots are used, the use of night cameras, how the editing mirrors each of the characters' status and finally how crude some of the details get, but how fantastically they are handled. The gross out stuff isn't there just to let you have an instinctive reaction, it is there to help the story and the characters evolve and enhance a story world which is incredibly designed.

Finally, what I probably deem the best element of the film is a script that is almost perfect, one of those that subverts your momentary reservations and proves you wrong in every way you possibly thought it could fail. I really mean it, this is possibly the best script of the year, it works on so many levels: the characters are rich, coherent, interesting and three dimensional, the logic is flawless, the narrative drive is climactic, the revelations are surprising and intelligent, most of all the thematic content is unbelievably rich and explosive: the morality questions the film asks are varied and complex and the fact that the film doesn't give answers on some is possibly the most scary element of it all: no one here is either a good or a bad guy, they are all people with a really f***ed up dynamic that is grounded in reality and lends itself to a moral debate that is sure to spin your head round and round.

Possibly, my favorite part of this remarkable screenplay is the deep and original humanization of the blind man, Stephen Lang's character. It is very easy to have a flat figure in these films as an antagonist and it could have been even easier here. Yet, Alvarez and Sayagues craft one of the most compelling opponents of recent years, humanizing him in a very unconventional way, making him a strangely sympathetic character, full of surprises and little touches that elevated the entire film.

The film only has a couple of flaws to account for and even then they are all minor: there were two editing cheats that broke continuity and therefore partially took away from the flow and tension of two small moments. Moreover, there are many jump scares in this film, some used intelligently and to great effectiveness, unfortunately a couple were really gratuitous and didn't fit organically. Lastly, this is a real nitpick, but I thought that as beautiful as some of the tracking shots were, I found a couple of brief moments in there to be a little too on the nose in setting up later elements and they could have easily been edited tighter.

This is excellent, intelligent and inspired filmmaking and yet another great horror film from this year and this recent period that, after a stale period in the 2000s, seems to be becoming a new golden age of horror films just like the one we had in the 70s and early 80s.

James's Score: 8.5/10

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