I had trouble deciding this week. Should I go see Mechanic: Resurrection, the sequel to a film I’d never even heard of? Or should I see Don’t Breathe, a Horror/Thriller about kids robbing a blind guy’s house? Normally I don’t check the reviews beforehand, but Rotten Tomatoes is there for when I really can’t decide. I can tell you that Rotten Tomatoes loved this film (87% at the time of this writing) and I can see why. Don’t Breathe is a really well made film. I didn’t 87% like it; (this is one of the very few times Rotten Tomatoes liked something more than I did), but I can explain.
A group of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re very wrong.
Oh this film did so many things right. One of the first things I noticed was the way it played with sound and light. The musical score was really good. The camera panned through the house over weapons and crawlspaces, foreshadowing things that would come into play a bit later. And throughout the entire thing, every shot reinforces the differences between relying on sight (and being almost oblivious to the other senses) and being blind but with amazing compensatory senses. At one point when the lights go out while he’s chasing them, (not a spoiler that was in the trailer) and it gets crazy.
The acting was very strong. Stephen Lang was such a badass, even though he was blind. His dog was amazing too, that animal (it was actually three separate actor dogs, Athos, Astor and Nomad) was a terrifying threat. Dylan Minnette was very handsome and convincing ( but wore a shirt the whole time). Jane Levy was really effective in conveying the tension, terror and at times outrage at the events of the film. There wasn’t a bad performance in Don’t Breathe that I could see.
Where Don’t Breathe really shone was scene structure. We knew what the characters needed to do at every moment. And throughout the film, they were always, ALWAYS a hair’s breadth from safety. And time and time again, the characters were just barely thwarted and barely got away. The danger is at once surprising and believable. There were some truly unexpected things that happened over the course Don’t Breathe that totally fit once they’re there. You wouldn’t think there would be so much potential in one blind guy’s house, but wow. The suspense just kept coming; it ratcheted up beautifully. I was on the edge of my seat from minute one and I wasn’t really sure the story was truly over until about a minute before the credits rolled.
Here’s where Don’t Breathe fell down for me: I didn’t like the characters. I liked none of them. Yes they were well acted and but the motivations of the everyone in this movie were suspect. Any characters who would choose to rob a blind veteran don’t deserve my sympathy. Nevermind that he turned out to be completely formidable (or else it would have been a short, sad movie), if you opt to do something so morally suspect then you’ve emotionally lost me. Take any other movie, Psycho for example: when she dies (spoiler alert for Psycho) it’s shocking when it happens because you desperately want her to live. Not so with Don’t Breathe. Worse is that they try a few times to make them justify the characters, to make them more sympathetic and then failed. More than once. When I see a movie, I like it because I relate to the characters. If I can’t relate then I don’t really like it.
So is Don’t Breathe worth seeing? I have to say yes – despite my emotional lack of investment it was just so well done. Maybe rent it if you’re curious. Definitely see it if you’re a film student, both for its successes and its failures. Maybe you’ll find the moral landscape of Don’t Breathe to be less ruinous than I did and if so, you’ll definitely enjoy it more.