"Don't Breathe" Review: A Breath of Cinematic Fresh Air

For some reason I’m thinking about the scene from Blade 2 where the half vampire half human Blade comes out of a pool of blood after being shot by Reinhardt. He slowly rises, energized by the fresh blood and ready to take on his nemesis. After a summer of horrible and lackluster nationwide releases shooting us to cinema death, Don’t Breathe is the lifeblood needed to remind us of the magic of movies and that great films do exist!

The film is pretty simple in its premise. Three teenagers, Money (Daniel Zovatto), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Rocky (Jane Levy) burglarize Detroit area homes for money. After getting a tip on a house that’s inhabited by a blind man (Stephen Lang) who won a big $300,000 settlement after his daughter was killed by a motorist, may have that cash inside, they decide this may be the last house they have to rob in order to get out of the slums of Detroit. Which is actually pretty ironic considering the genre of film.

Once the trio gets into the house, things get complicated. They quickly learn that the blind man is not to be trifled with. Director Fede Alvarez masterfully crafts this film into a tension, suspense filled survival film that beautifully balances psychological terror and physical harm. In his arsenal of psychological weapons, Alvarez utilizes sound much like his blind antagonist. Sounds like a creak in the floor, breathing, sniffling, footsteps, and more all become needles to poke us with psychologically. He frames scenes in such a way that we see the youth in the space of the blind man, and much like them we want to escape the claustrophobia of danger.

Cinematographer Pedro Luque gives the ally-oop with the use of light and lack there of within the frame to help this film be a slam dunk. Light becomes a character that reveals and conceals within this movie in all the best ways possible. We’re able to both see what Alvarez wants us to see at times, and then like the blind man, things we want to see are taken away from us, heightening the horror.

 The cast does a great job of playing their characters. Horror roles are easy to break down into stereotypes, but each actor brings some level of humanity to theirs. Stephen Lang is terrifying as the blind man. His muscular figure in an aged, military veteran body becomes instantly imposing. He sniffs and snorts throughout the film like a Minotaur hunting down its prey inside the maze of the home that he knows inch by inch. You can watch him reach for landmarks as he chases after the teens, and with each confirmation you feel his plan for catching them. Zovatto is the annoying and abrasive wanna be gangster, that even in the trailer, we’re happy to see leave. Minnette plays the smart/heart amongst the trio, and Levy is an every woman heroine that we can feel for.

 What really sets Don’t Breathe apart is the morality shift that occurs throughout the film. Who is really the villain: the blind man or the thieves who broke in? Who is the victim? There are a couple of great twists within the film that quickly displace where you stand and how you feel about characters. It’s the cinematic experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat with all of your senses in tune to what’s going on before your eyes! Go see this film! Just remember to breathe during the scenes, as breathtaking as they are at times.

Rating: A-

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.