Fede Alvarez clearly has the directoral chops to give us a truly great horror movie. Love it or hate it, (I am of the former) his 2013 remake of The Evil Dead had a clear vision of what it wanted to be and exectuted it in a clear style that deviated heavily from the original cultural phenomenon. Moments were tense and gore was plentiful, and it is clear that the same hands of Fede and writer accomplice Rodo Sayagues guide his second full-length motion picture Don’t Breathe, a film that is just so damn close to being that great movie they have in them.
Don’t Breath is exactly two thirds of a great horror movie, falling head over heels into unintentionally comedic territory in its third act (for there is little other way to react to the absurdity that ensues), a tonal shift that explores a subplot that does nothing but chip away at the tense suspense that preceded it. There is a precise moment that simply turning off the movie would make for a far superior experience, a fade-out that would have left viewers as unsatisfied as they would have been enthralled.
The first two acts of Don’t Breath are, though, everything they promise to be. Three home robbers are saving up money to move to California, always skirting the money limit to keep it out of felony teritory. Character introductions are concise; we readily see who our conflicted heroes and selifsh antiheroes are with just the right amount of backstory to give us motive without delving to far into the melodramatic. A scene in which we see them successfully break in and out shows that they are intelligent, almost professional; a nice change and a solid angle.
From there, the simple setup of the inverted home invasion of a blind veteran to steal his eccessive cash plays like an eager retelling of three dungeon crawlers trying to steal the gold from a dragon beyond their level, and film continues to provide keen reasons as to why they simply cannot leave. There is a moral ambiguity that rests at the heart of the first hour, with these criminals with motives invading a blind killer’s home, that keeps the already tense sequence of events more so. It is not until the story feels compelled to chose a side does the disaster of it begin. Brutal to a shocking degree yet startlingly minimal, Don’t Breath is a crime thriller horror in the (almost) purest, proudest sense.
The film makes great use of space and sound – creaky boards and ear blasting whispers make the sense of dread and foreboding heightened even more so, despite a lackluster soundtrack that should be done away with almost completely. The house becomes a threat all its own, and one begins to feel the walls close in around them, slowly constricting like a cinematic python. This is simply another reason that the ending falls so flat; everything outside of the house is simply not the same movie.
In a fell swoop all sense of suspense, all tight tension, indeed everything that made Don’t Breath be Don’t Breath is swept under the rug, seemingly out of sight and out of mind, to extrapulate a side-plot that until this moment was nie puzzle piece the didn’t fit – yet it was the very thing, the piece that didn’t fit, that gave it its horrific spark in the first place.
It is a shame that Don’t Breath over stays its welcome, for it was such a great guest to begin with.