“… a great thriller with a good concept, great camerawork, and amazing sound design, but writing that is somewhat disappointing.”
With many people raving about Don’t Breathe I decided to see it myself. So with high expectations I sat in the theatre and watched it; luckily the film didn’t disappoint. Don’t Breathe follows three friends who break into peoples homes because they live in Detroit, and “fuck other people” right (not like have sex with them, but just not caring about them)? These friends get a hot tip that a war veteran has a large sum of cash in his house, which is in a mainly abandoned part of the city. The trio case the house and discover that this man is blind, but decide to proceed with their plan anyway. Unfortunately for them, this man is practically Daredevil and the goal switches from getting a sweet pay check, to getting out alive.
I really liked Don’t Breathe. Was it a prefect movie? Absolutely not. Don’t Breathe suffers from many issues, mainly writing based, that force you to “turn your brain off” in order to buy anything that is happening on screen. Did I have fun watching Don’t Breathe? Absolutely. Don’t Breathe is a movie with an interesting premise, and it delivers this premise in a way that is fun to watch. The film is interesting not only because it features an antagonist who is blind, but also because the protagonists aren’t really protagonists. These people broke into a blind guys house, so we hate them, but the entire movie we feel conflicted because even though we hate them we are conditioned to want them to escape the ‘scary killer’.
The story was not what impressed me about Don’t Breathe, but instead I was constantly in awe of the execution. Don’t Breathe is not a massive film (scale-wise, not budgetary), but the camerawork makes it feel huge (or tiny depending on the situation). Toward the beginning of the film there is a beautifully executed tracking shot that dances around this mans house like a piece of dust riding an air current. This not only allows us to get a feel for the location, but also sets the tone via sound as well as the dark visuals. To continue on with this trend, there is a fantastically gory shot (I won’t say which one) that only happens for a second, but the image stays in your brain for the entire film. As a matter of fact, I am still thinking about how effective that shot was not just for the immediate ‘jump-scare’, but for the lasting impact. There was also a great scene in the film where the characters find themselves somewhere dark, and to show them the film does a seamless transition into night vision. Not only did this scene itself remind me of Silence of the Lambs, but the technique used in that transition was fantastic. And of course there are more vague instances of the camerawork being great: tight shots being used to create a sense of claustrophobia, extreme closeups to encourage a visceral reaction from the audience, as well as many camera tricks that provided great reveals by hiding the ‘thing’ of interest behind a character so we get to see what the other character see. Sorry if that is vague, I am trying my best not to spoil the film.
Of course the camera wasn’t the only impressive thing in Don’t Breathe because there was also sound, and how beautifully it was used. Don’t Breathe uses one of my favourite sound techniques in film: silence. Unlike other films (cough Hush cough) Don’t Breathe wasn’t afraid of letting silence become overpowering, and in fact it embraced it. This not only did a great job at building tension, but also immersed me completely in the film. And when the music did start up, it was far from intrusive, only playing very softly and very low notes to blend in with natural sounds, and even if it was intrusive I wouldn’t have minded because it was beautiful. The score for Don’t Breathe is far from a masterpiece in terms of music, but it did it’s job perfectly by building tension and suspense in the audience. The film also had a few interesting instances of sound where really loud sounds were played kind of looping over each other and changing positions, which really was disorienting. This is just another instance of great immersion in the film.
I’m going to vaguely talk about the ending of Don’t Breathe, there will be no spoilers but if you are like me and like to know as little as possible about films before seeing them, maybe just skip to my rating. The ending of Don’t Breathe was one of my bigger issues with the film. Instead of quitting while it was ahead, the film decided to continue doing the “Oh, you though that was the ending? Fooled you!” schtick. This very rarely works in films and it unfortunately changed my attitude from “I can’t wait to see what happens next “ to “Holy shit, this thing isn’t over yet?”. I feel like the root of this problem was that the writers didn’t actually know how to end the film, so they just threw all of their ideas into the movie hoping one of them would be good. So it was a disappointing ending to an otherwise great film.
Ultimately Don’t Breathe is a great thriller with a good concept, great camerawork, and amazing sound design, but writing that is somewhat disappointing.
I give Don’t Breathe a B