Review: ‘Don’t Breathe’: Suspense Done Right

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Noah Wehr


A traditional heist movie gone wrong, and blinding twists and turns to keep the viewer always in the dark.  “Don’t Breathe” offers a thrilling update on the simple story structure. 

Written by Fede Alvarez (“Evil Dead”) and  released on the back end of the 2016 summer blockbuster season, the film itself has a linear plot of breaking into a blind man’s home to steal $300,000 he has locked away in a safe.  The plot lures viewers into thinking this will be an easy heist, but does so in a manner that makes it one of this years best thrillers. Right from the beginning the mood is set and tensions are at an all time high. Little things that you barely notice pay off in the end, whether it be a lock the characters have to break or a piece of glass that makes too much noise on when stepped on. The camera shifts from character to character without breaking a shot, which helps the audience understand the setting, and leaves a slow burn when it focuses on something for one second too long.

The characters for the most part are cannon fodder for the violence, but they do have a story to tell. Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) do the best they can in their  minimal character development with the actor’s performances. All three are tired of petty robbery and treat this as their ‘big score’ in order for them to get a fresh start in California, where they will never have to rob houses again. They go into the heist thinking it’ll be a piece of cake, but quickly things go downhill for our protagonists.

Our central antagonist is the Blind Man, portrayed by Stephen Lang (“Avatar”,“Tombstone”), who lost his sight during deployment in Iraq. He obtains his money in a settlement after he loses his daughter in a hit and run accident. Although he cannot see, this transcends his character into a near superhero, being able to hear even the fablind-manintest of sounds. Being a veteran, he has enhanced strength and fighting skills along with expertise with firearms, which he demonstrates numerous times in the film. He uses the darkness to his advantage, playing to his strengths when on the attack. Alvarez wanted to created a supernatural horror being and have the it be grounded in reality, which he accomplished it with Lang’s character.

Within minutes of the heist, the plot twists begin, leaving the viewer in a confused state, wondering what will happen next. Each new piece of information double backs on itself making sure even the most experienced horror aficionado has no clue on what could happen. It’s one big game of cat and mouse between the Blind Man and the Robbers, each switching back and forth on their roles to keep the audience guessing. The camerawork keeps both the characters and audience in a state of claustrophobia, looking for an exit that isn’t there.

“Don’t Breathe” is not the first movie to deal with home invasion. James DeMonaco’s The Purge” also shows the horrors of a homeowner fighting off outside criminals, but limits itself on having a confusing floor layout, leaving the audience confused on where each character is hiding and the proximity of the villain. “You’re Next” directed by Adam Wingard improves on this, but keeps the story format rather linear, leaving the audience wanting robertsmore than just a cookie cutter plot. “Don’t Breathe” excels at both of these, providing the layout of the home very early on in a single long take, where the camera follows the characters inspecting the contents on the house in one unbroken shot. The film also presents a new twist on the clichéd plot, where the main villain is blind, providing the characters with different obstacles than if he were not. On top of trying to escape the home, sound becomes a factor the characters must face. This is shown very clearly towards the beginning of the break-in when Rocky gets a piece of glass stuck on the bottom of her shoe and the audience only hears a faint clicking sound of it being scraped along the hardwood floor.

The low budget story of “Don’t Breathe” had been created out of the critics’ reaction of  Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” remake, specifically the vast amounts of blood, too much focus on shocking the audience, and being a remake.  To combat this Alvarez went back to his roots as a filmmaker, and created “Don’t Breathe,” focusing on the natural elements of suspense in an original way. The plot became something of its own, the characters are  more grounded, and the horror is more real than before.

Towards the end of the film, “Don’t Breathe” trades off its suspense and tension for shock value. It’s a plot sacrifice to turn the Blind man into a sinister being, one that the audience will instantly recognize when they watch it. Although the twist is masterfully done, it seems out of place even with subtle foreshadowing. Up until that point, the movie seems plausible, like this event could actually happen, but then it transcends into something straight out of the “Saw” franchise. It does well in surprising the audience, but the film would be better off if Alvarez took a different route in his plot twists.

Alvarez expertly crafts his game of cat and mouse, where the defined lines of who the true villain has become are blurred and uncertain. Whoever is really at fault is all up to the viewers and their morality.



“Don’t Breathe” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.


Don’t Breathe


  • Director: Fede Alvarez
  • Writer(s): Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
  • Starring: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
  • Running Time: 1 Hour, 28 Minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Genre: Suspense, Thriller


Photos Courtesy of IMDB