Horror films oftentimes validate itself by letting its audiences root for its characters—whether the story dwells in the miseries of the protagonist (a group of friends, a bunch of strangers, lovers in troubles) or the personal issues of the antagonist (a mad man, a person with a dark past, a spiteful soul). Amidst the characters is a particular danger, made more terrifying by the littlest details it can branch out to, ultimately leading to that grueling need for survival, if not an simple escape, all the while maintaining tension to keep the viewers hooked and feel that they are part of the problem. Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez knows well enough how to build up that tension in this suspenseful horror film that literally tells one not to breathe despite the actual necessity to grasp for air in its every twist and turn.
Don’t Breathe tells the story of a group of small-time burglars who breaks into the house of an elderly blind man, thinking that they could score easy money. But before we get to be introduced to Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto), the film opts for a chilling cold open that starts high above the ground, slowly and eerily zooming in to the subjects: a man is dragging a body on the street in broad daylight—spoiler as it may seem for the audience but necessary enough to provide a sneak peek to what is bound to happen.
Its beginning sufficiently introduces our heroes (or antiheroes) and gives a quick view of their social status. The heist is quite a jackpot and each of the trio is intrigued on how they can get away with the crime as usual. But when the unnamed blind man (Stephen Lang) enters the picture, tables are turned in an instant as he is set to go after the ill-advised criminals.
There is admirable craft in the way Alvarez tenders horror in this age of the haunting and possession as typical themes of the genre. The old blind man’s house becomes a haunted house filled with a heavy atmosphere of fright that is effectively showcased through a delightful command of sound. The camerawork is playful and yet it works as a steering device to give clues on what will happen or what to expect. There is a claustrophic feeeling in each occasion every character tries his way out of the chaos.
Full of surprises and worth a chilling climax for its one-and-a-half-hour runtime, Don’t Breathe is the most exciting horror-thriller yet for this year. It’s not for the faint-hearted and never for those who can’t catch their breath.