31 Days of Hell: Don't Breathe Is A Thrilling Ride, Despite Little Emotional Stakes

Set in a desolated area of Detroit, Fede Alvarez’ heist movie turned horror Don’t Breathe is a suspenseful watch that left me on the edge of my seat. This thriller follows a trio of thieves. Alex (Dylan Minnette) cracks security systems, while Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Rocky (Jane Levy) grab whatever isn’t bolted down. The gang bites off a little more than they can chew when they decide to rob an old, blind veteran of his settlement cash he got after his daughter was killed in a driving accident.

The film begins as almost an off beat heist, with a small team, each playing a part. They plan how to knock out the old man and his dog, where to search in the house, and how to get away. This heist film recipe is followed, almost annoyingly, to a T throughout much of the film. The characters are not highly developed outside of their roles in the heist. They do not seem friendly to each other, despite attempts to insert romantic drama between Alex and Rocky. The lack of development of really any character leaves the movie feeling emotionally distant at times, however the real reason to watch this film comes from the villain.

The unnamed old veteran, played by Stephen Lang, is an absolute machine. He moves through his house, tapping the wall and ceiling to find his way and listening for any floorboard or door hinge that dares to creek. His mechanical, efficient use of violence to protect his house causes the trio’s plans to break down. The characteristic horror movie trope, in which the good guys make awful decisions, comes in full force, and their helplessness when trapped in his house is the most resonant emotion in the film. His senses become an important part of the film, as any noise the burglars make will alert him to their presence. Although these rules are applied inconsistently at times. For example Rocky and Alex have a conversation at a volume that seemed absolutely inappropriate for their circumstances.

Another aspect of the film that fell short was the continual jump scares that were used to create tension, but eventually became tired by the third or fourth. The big twist, aside from the old man’s retaliation, also doesn’t feel earned. The film does little to set up the twist, which serves to add shock value, and not really a new direction in the plot. In terms of the soundtrack and cinematography, the film does little to emphasize the tension. One really interesting continuous sweeping shot when the group initially breaks in serves to establish the scene. As the robbers are scoping the place, the camera pans and focuses on seemingly innocuous items, or rooms in the house that return later. The foreshadowing is excellent, but this doesn’t always earn the film the payoff it seems to be looking for.

This heist movie with some horror elements is great for a thrilling ride, but if you are looking for something that will make you think and confront emotionally challenging situations, this is not the horror film for that. Give Don’t Breathe a watch during this 31 Days of Hell, and experience the excitement for yourself.

-Patrick Bernas