It seems something is up with Detroit. First there was Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, then David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows; now Fede Alvarez’s supremely effective Don’t Breathe can join them to prove that Detroit is the go-to locale for contemporary American horror. Don’t Breathe similarly finds raw, troubling beauty in the tumbledown Detroit cityscapes which form a backdrop for the film’s gruesomeness. Of course, horror has always had a canny knack for unveiling tensions lying at the heart of society, and all three films effectively bring Detroit to life by allowing the city itself to function as a stand-in for the economically marginalised and politically displaced.
Don’t Breathe succeeds mostly for taking a simple premise and twisting it in unexpected directions — note: this reviewer strongly advises knowing as little as possible about its plot before viewing. Effectively, it is little more than an inverse home-invasion thriller in which the intruders are the ones trapped. In some perverse way these intruders are owed the violence that is inflicted upon them, and this film is unafraid to ask its audience to question their accountability. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, we’re effectively told, but some of us have more bite. What’s more, it’ll take something special if 2016 is to produce a scarier antagonist than Stephen Lang’s Blind Man, who commands each scene he’s in with foreboding intensity; imagine a muscle-strapped version of Pan’s Labyrinth’s Thin Man, or a blind Bane, and you’re partway there.
Don’t Breathe is head and shoulders above Fede Alvarez’s effective but unspectacular Evil Dead remake. Relentless tension, unpredictable plot turns, astute social commentary, and a ferocious lead performance characterise what could have otherwise so easily been a typical, by-the-book thriller. Don’t Breathe is a nerve-shredding treat.
CAST: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez
WRITERS: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
SYNOPSIS: Rocky, a young woman wanting to start a better life for her and her sister, agrees to take part in the robbery of a house owned by a wealthy blind man with her boyfriend Money and their friend Alex. But when the blind man turns out to be a more than he seems, the group must find a way to escape his home before they become his newest victims.