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Don’t Breathe – Movie Review

11 September, 2016 — by Christopher Ratcliff2

Although Fede Alvarez’s first film, the 2013 Evil Dead reboot-sequel-thing, was predictably disappointing it still showed promise. Its restless energy, the brutally intense final 10-minutes and Jane Levy’s performance all raising it just above totally pointless.

These elements are exactly what Alvarez brings to his second film, the home invasion thriller Don’t Breathe. Unfortunately the film is so mired in ethical and moral weirdness it’s hard to be entirely positive about the experience.

don't breathe cast poster

Three young tearaways make their living burgling houses in Detroit. Rocky (Jane Levy) dreams of a better life for her and her little sister away from her deadbeat mum. Rocky’s boyfriend Money is the trio’s amoral douchebag ringleader, and Alex is a nice boy, but one who’s taking advantage of the fact his dad runs a security firm and isn’t very good at hiding his clients’ keys and alarm passwords.

The trio get a tip-off that an army veteran whose daughter was killed in a car accident is sitting on a $300,000 cash settlement. The army vet is also blind. Figuring him for an easy mark, the trio descend on his house in the middle of the night, completely unaware that the old man is basically a cross between Daredevil and Rambo. He’s a grizzled killing machine, impervious to chloroform, has a terrifying bulldog and doesn’t take kindly to a home invasion. Also the nameless Blind Man has a few dark secrets of his own.

Dont Breathe film

What follows is a taught, high-concept cat and mouse thriller, where our ‘protagonists’ are trapped in a house with a trigger-happy psychopath while trying to escape as quietly as possible. It’s the stuff of pure anxiety, and this is Alvarez’s strength. Every moment of the film is wrung for all its tension, it’s thrillingly paced, the camerawork is kinetic without being too over the top and you are left utterly breathless by the end.

You’ll probably also feel quite ambivalent about the whole thing.

Don’t Breathe is unique for having protagonists and an antagonist who are all on the unpleasant-side of anti-hero. Its central heroes are still thieves who have no compunction about robbing a blind man grieving for his dead daughter. As for the Blind Man himself, he’s done (and threatens to carry out) reprehensible things that can’t be forgiven on grounds of mere ‘grief’. On paper, this makes it sound like Don’t Breathe contains three-dimensional characters operating in the murkiest of grey areas. It doesn’t. Characterisation amounts to the sum total of what I relayed in the third paragraph of this review.

don't breathe the blind man and money

But you know what, screw it. This is meant to be a lean, little thriller designed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately Don’t Breathe has a sudden twist involving sexual violence and a turkey baster full of spunk that comes completely out of leftfield and undoes all of its potential intrigue. It’s a scene of pure provocation – its intention is to discomfort and shock. And it definitely does that, but it also feels grimly unnecessary. Within the internal logic of the movie it feels completely outlandish. For the writers and filmmakers it’s a lazy and offensive plot device.

Maybe I’m reading the film wrong. With its ethically-redundant antiheroes, its ‘blind man with a bloodlust’, its non-existent characterisation, its scene of envelope-pushing shock – perhaps this is really an exploitation film. A slickly made, high budget exploitation film sure, but one that’s just as lurid as its progenitors. But exploitation films are also meant to be fun – Don’t Breathe is just miserable. 2/5

Check out more of the latest cinema releases in our film reviews section, including the superb Hell or High Water.

Don't Breathe


  • Russell Todd

    12 September, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Interesting premise. There’s a great film in Alvarez; though based on this review Don’t Breathe isn’t it.

    As an aside, I didn’t have high hopes for the unnecessary remake of Evil Dead but I thought it was passable – though that may have been the effect of the post-shoulder op painkillers I was on. Couldn’t take it even remotely seriously after the prologue scenes when the witch was speaking Welsh!

    • Christopher Ratcliff

      12 September, 2016 at 10:46 pm

      Yeah I agree – he either needs to go full-on schlock, or learn some subtlety – the middle ground isn’t a good place for him.

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