Don’t Breathe

August 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Horror seems like a deceptively simple genre; all you need to do is scare your audience. However, it is how you scare them that makes all the difference. So many films use gore and savage violence as a stand in for creating real tension. A good horror film knows how to play with its audience and this film does it well. Director and writer Fede Alvarez (this is only his second feature film, after “Evil Dead”) plays cat-and-mouse with the audience around a simple conceit: the villain is blind. This allows for a shifting of power between him and the kids trying to escape his house. His blindness is a significant disadvantage that helps to balance the scales against his military skill and generally craziness. Alvarez then cleverly tips those scales back-and-forth, using light/darkness and sound/silence to great effect. This allows for the tension to build and makes it believable why these kids can’t simply get past an old blind guy or, for that matter, why a trained soldier can’t simply dispatch a couple of kids. Alvarez does show a tendency toward the heavy handed in parts. He has clearly read his Chekhov and follows the playwright’s adage (ie if you have a rifle in the first scene, it must go off by the third one). Virtually every single thing we are shown (and every memory shared) is going to be relevant later on. There is a scene early on, when the kids just enter the home, where the audience is treated to a long, panning shot through a whole wash list of items (including a gun) that was so obvious I had to chuckle. That said, though, there was some fun in anticipating how each of those things would show up again. Very effectively, the old man scarcely spoke at all, which just added to the tension as the kids panicked and whispered. In fact, the one big misstep the film took was during the man’s monologue scene. Almost everything he said was over-wrought and silly. That entire scene brought the film dangerously close to high-camp and most of my audience fell into giggles. Fortunately, the scene was brief and the film resumed it’s original tone and pacing. Another misstep to me was in introducing the character Rocky’s little sister. She existed only to make Rocky more sympathetic and to justify her actions. I hated that. It felt cheap and I think it sells the audience short. Rocky does not have to be a girl scout in order for the audience to root for her. But this really was a small complaint about a good film. Many horror films end anti-climatically, unsure how to resolve the central tension. That isn’t a problem here. I really liked the ending of this film. It seemed completely believable and hit just the right note of resolution/uncertainty.

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