I watched the Fede Alvarez thriller, ‘Don’t Breathe’ today. I feel very conflicted about it. The concept is great and there are some really clever techniques.
However, there were areas in which it falls short. Let’s explore what I found effective about ‘Don’t Breathe’ and where I think it went wrong.
The film’s oppressive atmosphere is partly achieved by its use of sound and cinematography. There is an almost complete lack of a soundtrack. It is almost as if the production has been stripped back, streamlined for better performance like a race car.
Sound effects, silence and minute visual details are emphasised though. This is to illustrate the acute hearing and sense of smell that the blind man uses to his advantage.
Something about the colour palate, washed out lens and use of space gives an otherworldly feel. Another of Alvarez’s successes is making the veteran into a monster.
He seems to lack humanity in the way he looks and acts. It is the way he looks and acts. It is the way he traverses the house, shambling along, tracing the walls. It is a testament to Stephen Lang’s acting also. At its best, ‘Don’t Breathe’ is genuinely suffocating, oppressive. Akin to the experience of watching ‘Buried’.
However, where those films differ is that ‘Buried’ executed on the potential of its premise. ‘Don’t Breathe’ does not.
It starts really strong, the camera drifts around the house, honing in on certain objects as if to say ‘that comes in later’. We then get a really gripping first encounter with the vet. He pretends to be scared and vulnerable, exploiting their image of him as a victim. He turns the tables, brutally killing one of them. The directing and writing is elaborate.
Unfortunately it falls apart from there. The story becomes drawn out, mean-spirited and gratuitous. A scene in the basement felt particularly seedy.
The concept is superb with effective building of atmosphere. Ultimately though, it falls apart in the second half, failing to deliver.