"Don't Breathe" (2016) Review: Silence is Key

By Reid Ramsey (August 29, 2016)
"...in a cinematic landscape saturated with superhero movies and remake, rehash, whatever nonsense, it is promising to know that there is an audience willing to see weird, gross, and unique films such as Don’t Breathe."

“Silence is your best friend,” said tension to writer/director Fede Alvarez when he was working on his new horror film "Don't Breathe" (2016). I just wished he had taken what is apparently the personification of tension (?) more seriously.

As is the case with horror films dating back nearly a century, many of the most tense and horrific moments happen when the music drops out and all we hear is the character’s breath, or lack thereof. "Don’t Breathe" takes this to a new level as our protagonists, a group of teens (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) trying to escape their Detroit lives by robbing houses, break into a blind veteran’s (Stephen Lang) home to steal his apparent fortune. When Lang enters the room, a silence persists as his character listens for who is in his house, and our protagonists try to stay as quiet as possible (hence the title). The moments of silence successfully heighten the tension and a sinister fear invades the audience.

Unfortunately, the effective use of silence only accentuates one of the worst parts of the movie: the score. It’s almost as if the composer, Roque Baños, experienced an entirely different movie when scoring "Don’t Breathe". At times, the score adds to the tension, but between some blisteringly loud moments and other moments where the bouncy score feels lifted from an adventure movie, there seems to be a major disconnect between the music and the movie we see. 

One of the other issues I had with the film was the complete monster-ization of the antagonist. While a character remarks early that “Just because he’s blind, don’t mean he’s a saint,” the movie cheaply utilizes his blindness as a vehicle for portraying him as an evil monster of a man. Yes, it is just a genre movie. No, it doesn’t have to use his cloudy eyes as an evil character. However, the premise of the blind antagonist makes for such an interesting and thrilling movie that I think these issues are easy to get past and mostly only arise when thinking about it after the fact.

Stephen Lang in "Don't Breathe" (2016)

Stephen Lang in "Don't Breathe" (2016)

The past few years have been recognized as a “Horror Renaissance” with critical indie hits like "It Follows" (2015) and "The Babadook" (2014). While these films found their own audiences, it’s significant to talk about the mainstream horror hits that present fresh ideas to widespread audiences. "Don’t Breathe" manages to fit nicely into this so-called renaissance on the mainstream side with the likes of "The Conjuring" (2013). Neither of these two films feel as unique or special to me as some of the indie films, including one of my favorite films from this year "Green Room" (2016), but in a cinematic landscape saturated with superhero movies and remake, rehash, whatever nonsense, it is promising to know that there is an audience willing to see weird, gross, and unique films such as "Don’t Breathe."

As is the case with most good genre movies, a fresh and interesting premise goes a long way. With the use of violence and shock as well, I think this film secures a unique place among mainstream horror films. Despite a trailer that gives nearly everything away (avoid the trailer if you haven’t already seen it), "Don’t Breathe" still manages scares and shock even if it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny after the fact.

RATING: 2.5/4