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Don't Breathe Review: Tense Horror Without the Cheap Thrills

By Ryan Scott — August 24th, 2016

2016 has been a fairly disappointing year for big blockbusters, but overall, a very good year for mainstream horror. But we're not done yet. After making his mark with the 2013 remake of Sam Raimi's classic Evil Dead, director Fede Alvarez has returned with a very original story in Don't Breathe. With a minimal cast and a unique idea, he has managed to craft a very effective, very tense horror experience that occupies a space seldom ventured in today's modern horror movie landscape.

Don't Breathe revolves around three young adults who live in Detroit, where they are struggling to find a way out of their current situations. So, they decided that robbing houses is a good idea. When a score too good to pass up comes around, they decided to take some extra risk in order for a big score. The three decided to rob the house of a wealthy blind man in the night, and let's just say it doesn't go according to plan.

If there is one thing that even the best modern horror movies rely on far too much, it is the cliche jump scare. With most of these types of scares, if you take out the music cues, there isn't really much to them. Alvarez opted to only stick a few jump scares into Don't Breathe, and instead relies on situational horror to keep the viewer engaged. It is genuine tension. The scare comes from picturing yourself in these situations. You may jump out of your seat less, but this type of horror is much more difficult to pull off effectively. It is like making a cake without fancy decorations and trying to convince someone your cake still tastes better. On a first glance, they might say "but look at those fancy decorations!" That effect wears off quickly, though. The flavor of something like Don't Breathe will sit with you longer.

Utilizing a minimalistic cast for a movie that largely takes place in one setting can pay off really well, but in a horror movie, it can lead to a bit of predictability. It is hard to say what you will or will not be able to predict in Don't Breathe as I only have the eyes of one man, but to take anything away from anyone in the cast would be dreadfully unfair. This movie works for two reasons which are a very interesting premise, and very good performances from very good actors. It again proves that if you have quality actors and acting in a horror movie, it will elevate the material.

Fede Alvarez decided to bring back Jane Levy after working with her on Evil Dead, and there should be no complaints from anyone for that decision. This is one of those things where giving away much in the way of specifics would spoil the ride for anyone wanting to see the movie, but let's just say that Levy doesn't really play the typical "hot girl in distress" or the typical "not as classically hot girl who is in less distress" that we often see in horror movies. Dylan Minnette is kind of quietly becoming a very good, young actor and this is another super solid performance from him. Daniel Zovatto, for his part, is very good as well as the appropriately named Money. However, so much credit goes to the wonderfully awesome Stephen Lang, who sadly, many of us know as "that one guy from Avatar." Lang is chilling, convincing, layered and downright excellent as "The Blind Man" in this movie. Whatever degree of praise Don't Breathe ultimately receives, much of it will rest on the back of Stephen Lang.

Alvarez has a style to him. Evil Dead did not look like a cheaply made movie with a bunch of kids getting murdered at a cabin in the woods. Similarly, Don't Breathe is a very stylized, well shot, good looking movie that just so happens to be a horror thriller. Again, this is the type of thing that elevates what could be another "I'll Netflix it later" horror movie to something that deserves your box office dollars.

Horror fans should definitely see Don't Breathe. If you are tired of jump scares, this is what you have been waiting for. On that note, if horror typically isn't your thing, because you hate jump scares and ghosts, you should also go see Don't Breathe, because it involves no ghosts and very few jump scares. Fair warning, there is a pretty gross scene in the movie that is nothing if not different from what we're used to, but it could easily be seen as "a bit much." That potentially aside, bravo Mr. Alvarez. Sony Pictures's Don't Breathe is in theaters August 26.

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