31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #29: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Posted: October 30, 2018 in Movie Review

29. Don't Breathe (2016)

Director: Fede Álvarez

Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovato, Stephen Lang

As I’ve recently detailed, I find it satisfying to discover a film I like that hasn’t been gifted with a majority of positive reviews. When the opposite (a positively-reviewed film that I’m NOT crazy about) comes along, it leaves me confused. This occurred most recently when I sat down to watch 2016’s “Don’t Breathe.” Any time a popular horror film fails to grab me, I go into full-on analyzation mode to figure out what I must have missed. Sometimes, it’s a prejudice against a specific sub-genre that I can’t get past. More often, as in the case of “Don’t Breathe,” it tends to be one or more of the decisions made in the film’s writing/production that has managed to irk me in some way.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are the three dumbasses… sorry, I meant protagonists… who, as the professional burglars they claim to be, decide their next score should come at the expense of an old man who lost his sight. But it’s all okay, you see, because Rocky’s home life is absolutely horrendous. So sympathize with her, damn you! What entices them to the idea of this particular heist is that the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) has some $300,000 from a wrongful death settlement after a young woman crashed into his daughter’s car and killed her. Alex has to think it over before agreeing, relenting only because it will mean that Rocky, whom he has a crush on, can finally get away from home.

What they should have been worrying about, yet none of them do, is that they have done a half-assed job of scouting both the house and its occupant. True, they know that he’s a Gulf War veteran, but they don’t have any idea how well he gets around. They also haven’t bothered to check which parts of the house are tightly secured, what kind of dog the man owns, and they don’t have the first freaking clue which part of the house the money is in. They did bring some useless sleeping gas, though. Money figures, since the guy has to be fast asleep, it’s totally cool to use a gun to open a lock. Not only is the money not behind this locked door, but the noise has of course awakened the Blind Man. While this is going on, Alex is looking for a way for them all to get back out of the house. The Blind Man kills Money, and Rocky hides away in a closet.

After witnessing the Blind Man checking a safe inside the closet, Rocky waits until he leaves and then opens the safe to find the money, which turns out to be more than the promised $300,000, and she puts it all into her backpack. Rocky has just proven that she does not care that her boyfriend’s brains have been blown out of his skull right in front of her. All she cares about is getting away from home. Some protagonist she is! Of course, both Rocky and Alex are now trapped inside the house. What’s more is the fact that the Blind Man is now wise to the fact that Money was not the only intruder, as was his dying declaration.

A long chase ensues, partially in darkness after the Blind Man cuts the power, and ends with Rocky’s capture and Alex’s apparent death. This is where “Don’t Breathe” makes one last ditch effort to manipulate the audience into sympathizing with Rocky. It turns out that the Blind Man had kidnapped the woman who accidentally killed his daughter. Wanting a child to replace the one he’d lost, the Blind Man had forcibly impregnated his captive using a turkey baster. This method, he says, proves that he’s not actually a rapist. This is total bullshit, of course, but that’s his defense. Now that the woman has been accidentally shot to death by the Blind Man while he was in pursuit of Rocky and Alex, it is his intention that Rocky should take the woman’s place.

Alex’s supposed death turns out to be a case of trick photography on the part of the filmmakers, nothing more than a fake-out akin to the infamous dumpster scene from the 6th season of TV’s “The Walking Dead.” It also proves equally ineffective, as Alex is killed for real not long after his reappearance. Rocky gets away, though not before being captured a second time, and certainly not without taking the man’s money with her!

Morally bankrupt characters are certainly nothing new to horror. It isn’t even out of the question for them to become the heroes of their story. But it’s almost as though “Don’t Breathe” is aware that Rocky is a selfish person, and that she along with her male companions are so incredibly stupid that it overcompensates by making its villain that much more of a reprehensible monster. The thought is that Rocky and her crew therefore cannot help but become sympathetic simply by default. Their foolish actions throughout do not earn them this right. Most characters like this at least learn a valuable lesson by film’s end, but Rocky has clearly learned nothing.

Normally, I’d suggest a change in tone, as horror comedies in particular tend to handle these types of characters much better. However, the story which “Don’t Breathe” sets out to tell cannot function the way it does unless it takes the material seriously. It’s not like “Don’t Breathe” is actually a bad movie. The acting, especially from Stephen Lang, is quite excellent. I suppose what it all boils down to is whether or not you can allow yourself to get past the questionable motives and decisions of the main characters. Though it’s clear that quite a number of viewers have been able to do this, I was among the minority who could not.

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