Don’t Breathe Review: Small-Scale Horror Makes For a Thrilling Success

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For a summer wired with complicated sequels and in-depth franchise mythology, one of the last wide releases of the summer refreshingly reminds us that the best time at the theater doesn’t have to be all that complex. Like The Shallows before it, Don’t Breathe succeeds in scaring the shit out of you with few characters and a simplistic plot. We follow three Detroit teenagers who rob houses to try and make enough money to get out of their rundown city. But they pick the wrong house when a blind Gulf War veteran (a deliciously creepy Stephen Lang) and his vicious hound pick up their scent.

It’s a simple set up that allows for a lot of thrills. With our blind antagonist closing off all means of escape, the kids are trapped in the confines of the man’s creaky floor boards, doors, and any other household items that, in the dead quiet, suddenly seem like an elephant stampede. Director Fede Alvarez, coming off the relative acclaim of his Evil Dead remake, proves himself as one of the horror genre’s most promising new visionaries. He whips the camera around corners as the kids silently navigate the house’s dark, wooden corridors, leaving us on edge waiting for the man to just be there. That sense of uneasy dread is a constant throughout the film. You’ll actually wish the snappy set-up was a little bit longer so the rest of the 88-minutes will back down for a second and let you catch your breath. Well, it doesn’t. Once this thing gets going, it goes and goes until the credits roll. The tension builds and boils over until there’s a sense that you’re just never safe from a scare. It’s an accurate assumption for this confident film to make.

If there’s one flaw in Alvarez’s method, the musical score occasionally overpowers moments and sucks the tension out when silence would have been more arresting. Less is always more in the horror genre, and Don’t Breathe forgets that from time to time, but never when it counts enough to severely damage itself.

These moments being done differently wouldn’t necessarily make or break the film. It’s a simple and effective gem of horror, but hardly one that changes the game. Still, there’s no denying that what Don’t Breathe does well it does really well. This thriller will take you on a physical journey in your seat, pushing you to squirm, hide, and hold your breathe until everything seems safe. The best part is, you’ll never feel safe watching this film, and that’s how you do horror. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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