I grappled between making this review a full recap as usual or a more standard, vague impression of the film considering that it is still in theaters. Ultimately I decided on sticking to my current format. Don't Breathe has been playing for quite some time, and at this point, I think everyone who has meant to see it has done so by now. So buckle up for spoilers folks. We're going in blind for a review of 2016's Don't Breathe.
The movie kicks off in the suburbs, as an old man drags something down the middle of the street. As the camera gets closer, it is revealed that he is actually carting an unconscious blonde woman to an unknown destination, right through the middle of the suburbs. Only in Detroit folks.
Speaking of which, the credits pop up and the clock winds back a day as we are finally introduced to the protagonists of tonight's caper. The trio of kids are thieves that make a living busting into the few nice houses that a place like Detroit still has left and snatching anything valuable. There is a bit of nonverbal character development from the way they raid the house that gives a quick rundown of who these folks are and what their deal is. Rocky, the blonde girl we saw earlier, is trying on clothes and eyeing the jewellery, telling us that she dreams of something better from life than her current situation. Alex, the scrawny pale kid, is looking over books and pictures evidencing that he is an intellectual, withdrawn sort. Money, the ringleader who looks like James Franco in Spring Breakers, is breaking stuff and peeing on the floor. This tells us that he's a complete dipshit and we'll be glad when he's dead. Was that a spur of the moment thing? Or did he actually come to the house with a full bladder? Either way, dick.
Post heist, we get a bit of sympathy injected into these characters before things really start going crazy. Money wants a bigger pay off from the jobs he pulls, Alex's dad works for a security company (Whom he steals the keys and codes from so they can rob places) and has a major crush on Rocky, who lives in 8 Mile, complete with a morality-inducing little sister and a verbally abusive mother with a neo-nazi boyfriend.
Are we sure the real monster of this movie is not, in fact, the city of Detroit itself?
Finally we get our hook: Money has been tipped off about an old army veteran who lives on an abandoned block, alone after the death of his daughter. Apparently, she was killed by a car accident and he received a huge payoff to keep his mouth shut over the whole thing. The thought of stealing genuine cash worries Alex, who knows that they can be charged with grand larceny, but Rocky and Money see the potential reward as retirement plans: Money can finally afford a little respect and Rocky can finally bail on her mother and take her sister to Los Angeles. They scope the place out and we get our first big jump scare of the film from a pretty intense rottweiler that belongs to the owner of the house.
Stephen Lang as The Blind Man. We'll get back to him later.
The initial break in goes relatively smoothly. They drug the pupper with a pill shoved into some meat and recon the place. It's heavily secured with bars on the windows and multiple locks on all doors in and out, including the basement. They don't want to make too much noise breaking in, so Rocky manages to clambour up to the second floor, and...breaks a window ten feet away from the master bedroom. That's playing it sneaky.
She manages to slip inside and deactivate the security system, letting everyone in through the side door. They shed their shoes and embark on a high stakes game of Don't Wake Daddy, creeping around while Money sets up a VERY sketchy looking chloroform bomb upstairs to make sure that the owner of the house remains asleep. Given that he is a shut in, waiting for the man to leave the house doesn't seem like an option. So the owner is asleep upstairs, they have one way in and out of a heavily barred up house and the entire neighbourhood is abandoned, meaning that there is no one around to call the police. Don't see how this could backfire.
The initial sweep of the house deserves mentioning. The camera pans the entire length of the interior, frequently lingering on objects that it promises will come into play later in the movie, like a hammer in the workroom, a skylight by the back door, a bell in the living room and a revolver taped to the bottom of The Blind Man's bed. There are also a lot of little touches that tell a lot about the man that these kids have decided to rob; Pictures of his daughter that have been placed on the mantle upside down, the faded mark of a crucifix that used to hang over his bed and a TV playing home movies of better days that he still listens to. When I first saw the opening to this film, I believed that the other houses in the neighbourhood would factor into the narrative eventually, maybe by a subterranean network of basements. I didn't think a single moderately sized house would provide enough of a backdrop for an entire horror movie. I was gladly proved wrong by the filmmakers, who get a great deal of tension and scares from confining the action to a single suburban home (And a pretty expansive basement)
After a quick poke around, Money deduces that the cash they are after is in the padlocked basement. Unable to pick the lock and growing impatient with a crowbar, Money does the stupid thing and draws a gun that he brought along, shooting off the lock. In under a minute, this proves to be a bad idea. Alex attempts to bail and The Blind Man wakes up (Guess that chloroform bomb didn't take). Within another minute, he closes the distance, overpowers Money (While Rocky just sort of stands there and lets it happen) and blows his brains out with his own gun, showing everyone exactly why you don't fuck with Daredevil. To his credit, Money claimed to be the only one in the house, so all Rocky and Alex need to do is stay quiet if they want to survive.
The main threat of this movie is never given a name, even in the ending credits. Word of God claims that his name is Norman, so I may occasionally refer to him as such. Does kind of detract from the fear of the situation though; Being chased around by a blind, ex-military, gun wielding Norman.
Norman stalks through his house, nailing up his broken window when he finds a piece of glass on the floor, and locking the side door, pocketing the key, one hand on the reclaimed Beretta the whole time while a panicking Alex and Rocky text each other. Yes these kids are scared and don't want to die, but things start to stray back into morally grey area when Rocky sees their captor check his safe in the closet, even eyeing up the keycode. It is very clear that she still intends to rob him.
That of course leads to a very apparent question: if his money is in a safe, then why did he have a padlock on the basement?
As Alex and Rocky attempt to reconvene and plan out their next move, I again have to laud the direction and camera work in this movie. They way they shoot it makes the simple act of a man walking through his own house terrifying. Granted, many of the scares this movie come from startling “Gotcha!” moments, but each one feels earned. Almost every startle serves a purpose to further the plot, from the introduction of his dog earlier in the film, to the moment when he heads off Alex and Rocky down in the cellar. Alex and Rocky meanwhile plan to escape through the cellar door, which has the least amount of fortification, but not before Rocky grabs the cash from his safe. Even in this state, she is that desperate to leave this life behind. But Stephen Lang quickly finds out! Now he has to KILL ALL OF YOU!
Both Rocky's avarice and a cigarette she was smoking earlier come back to bite her as they alert The Blind Man to the presence of more people in his house. Their trip downstairs also takes a sudden detour when they discover that there is actually a gagged woman being held captive in the basement, revealed through another jump scare.
Up until now, I was unabashedly rooting for ol'Stormin Norman. The man is a handicapped badass who has decided to make life hell for a few stupid kids who broke into his house, but now his own motives are suddenly a lot less honest. The foreshadowing of this twist is quite well done, set up with the bell in the kitchen, the fact that he doesn't call the police after shooting Money and why he was so resolute in killing his trespassers after he had reason to believe that they had been in the basement. They manage to get their hands on a set of keys and discover that the woman is the same girl who killed his daughter. The escape plan through the cellar door quickly goes sour when Lang cuts them off from the outside and starts firing.
A series of conveniently misplaced shots wing Alex's ear, destroy Rocky's phone (thus robbing the group of light) and kill the hostage, which Lang seems unreasonably anguished about when he finds out. Even now, it's hard to truly hate this man, if only because of how impressively capable he is, especially when he seals the basement door and trips the fuses, plunging room into darkness.
The scene when every character is on equal visual footing is probably the best in the entire movie. The black and white, “Night vision” camera catches the bumbling of the suddenly blinded protagonists and the smooth, swift movements of Lang, who stalks through his basement like a wraith. There are very impressive little touches, like the heavily dilated pupils of the kids, and the flashes of colour whenever Lang fires his gun, briefly illuminating the scene.
At this point, the gradual transformation of The Blind Man starts to become apparent. The few words of dialogue he had until now devolves into growling mutters and the minor scarring around his eyes transforms into vicious deformities. He has gradually been turning into a legitimate monster.
Just when it occurred to me to start counting the shots that Beretta had fired off, it runs out of ammo. Alex manages to outmaneuver The Blind Man downstairs and they escape back into the illuminated upper floors, trapping him in the cellar. But now of course, the best character of the movie is reintroduced when a reawakened rottweiler chases the two upstairs, causing the group to split. Again, Rocky proves to be more greedy than smart, displaying hesitance at Alex's plan to trip the house alarm and bring the cops, because it means that they wouldn't keep the money. Try to get your priorities straight, lady! YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.
An irate dog causes them to go their separate ways, Rocky into the ducts of the house and Alex pushed out a second floor window and down through the previously mentioned skylight. As Rocky is pursued into the crawlspace by the dog, who is a loyal and determined good boy and I will hear no other argument about him, Alex and Norman have a fist fight in his workroom. Lang's character may be blind, but it's still a pale, Miles Teller-type versus a juiced up Stephen Lang who remembers where all of the heavy and sharp things are in his house. It goes how you'd suspect and Lang stabs him with a pair of gardening shears in a scene that is shot in JUST the right way to leave it ambiguous. He then pulls Rocky out of the vents and chokes her out.
Rocky awakens in the same harness that the girl from earlier was strapped into as Lang disposes of her body and things start to get genuinely messed up. See, the girl from earlier wasn't just his hostage. She was also carrying his child. Yikes. Now she's dead because of the break in and Norman still wants his baby. And here's Rocky.
Oh dearie me. What sympathy this man had left is rapidly evaporating.
It's actually arguably worse when Lang promises Rocky that he's no rapist. Oh, well that's all well and good, until he pulls out the turkey baster. Oooooooooohhhh.
Roxy is saved at the last minute by Alex. See, Money's body was in the workroom during the fight and that's who got stabbed. Thanks again Money. I suppose Alex just kind of hung around while Rocky was getting choked out and dragged downstairs by Norman (what a hero), and he decides to go downstairs and bean Lang in the back of the head with the hammer we saw. Also, he decided not to call the police or go with his initial plan. Which immediately proves to be a bad idea when he finally gets shot full of holes during their final flight through the front door by a recovered, armed Lang, leaving Alex as the final girl. I understand the trope and that Alex has a lot to live for with her baby sister, but the sheer level of profit before reason mindset she displays throughout the movie weighed against Alex's constant sensibility and intelligence makes me less than eager to accept her as the resilient heroine that this movie is painting her as. Rocky flees outside and hey, mocks the blind guy for good measure until Good Boy pops back up, rocketing after her and forcing her back into Money's car. She manages to outwit the dog, but Lang pops back up and punches her out. We are now back at the scene from the beginning of the movie as she is dragged back to the house.
As she regains consciousness, Rocky manages to grab the security remote that Alex had, helped along by a friendly lady bug. She triggers the system, deafening The Blind Man with the alarm and beating him senseless with the prybar from the very start of the film. He falls on his own gun and Rocky finally escapes with the cash, as Detroit's one police car arrives on the scene.
The movie ends with Rocky boarding a plane with her kid sister, watching news coverage of the whole bloody story on a nearby TV. There is a final note of suspense left in the film when the news declares The Blind Man is in stable condition and will survive. Watch your back Rocky, and get out of town fast. He found the woman who killed his daughter easy enough and you never know when he may go looking for you.
Don't Breathe is definitely one of my favourite movies that I've reviewed for this whole mission that I so foolishly embarked on. Stephen Lang is a simultaneously terrifying and fun to watch movie villain, and again, his dog is amazing. The protagonists are a bit more on the fence, as while Alex is intelligent, quick witted and frequently goes back for Rocky, Rocky herself comes off as self-centered and short sighted, looking as though she would willingly abandon her friends, endangering herself and others and making an awful lot of noise at various points throughout out the movie for someone trying to be sneaky. I can also call out the movie for feeling about five minutes too long, at which point it starts reusing scares, like the dog at the car window or Norman popping up out of nowhere. Otherwise, the film is very well done and exceeds at ramping up tension. It's telling that during the “hold your breath” moments of the movie, the theater I saw the film in was silent as a crypt. This movie is very worth watching. Have a good night, and remember to keep an eye open.