|Blind but far from helpless in Don't Breathe|
It's hard to attack a movie like Don't Breathe. It's a big screen, R rated horror movie that's doing gang buster business at the box office. OK maybe not so hard as I have seen reviews attacking it. Negative reviews based on the sexual abuse sub-plot and it lack of scares and tension. I went in hoping to be able to defend it against the anti- rape sentiment that is cascading through the horror community. I guess I should state at this point that I am not, in any way, pro-rape. However I also feel a horror movie should be about horror, and if a rape scene is necessary for the story, it should happen. Like all things care should be taken that it's not gratuitous and unnecessary.
So I went in to Don't Breathe hopeful. Riding high on some positive reviews of people I trusted. Reviews that the film was a taut, suspenseful ride, if not really scary. The basic plot was interesting, and held some promise. A group of kids break into a house attempting to rob it, only to find themselves trapped inside. Trapped and hunted by a blind man with murderous intent. It was a great set up actually. Turning the tables on movies with a blind victim stalked by home invaders such as the classic Wait Until Dark.
|Don't Breathe movie poster|
However, as is often the case, reality is far removed from promise. Sadly it was a great set up mostly wasted, and I have a hard time defending it, or defending the inclusion of the rape scene. I wont attack it to hard, because there was a couple good points to the film. They were minor points, and while I have a hard time saying I enjoyed Don't Breathe, I don’t hate it. It just wasn't anything special, which is a shame for a movie doing so well.
So on to those good points. Stephen Lang was a good point. I thought he was great as the blind antagonist. I just think the character wasn't well written or thought out. He had potential and Lang did what he could to bring it out. But whereas he could have been a strong malevolent force, or alternatively a sympathetic character gone bad, it seemed the writers couldn't decide and tried to split the difference. There was also such variance in his abilities. He can bounce all around his house, reacting or over reacting to the slightest sound. At other times he can't hear footfalls, or his potential victims talking. Even his lack of eye sight seems to vary. Is he blind? It appears so at times. Other times he seems to have some blurry vision. I still say Lang gave it his best but he couldn't salvage the character. So instead of a imposing Zatoichi, we get a limp ass Daredevil.
The other thing that impressed me, with no reservations was the setting. Don't Breathe showed Detroit in it's festering decay. It avoided the easy route of showing deteriorating urban vistas and grand violence. Instead it showed us what appeared to be sub urban homes fallen into decay. It shocked me to think an American city could look like this. Homes, that might once have been nice, even expensive homes being reclaimed by nature. It looks like we are witnessing what will one day become ancient ruins right in front of our eyes. From friends who live in Michigan, Don't Breathe presented a realistic picture of Detroit. My last point is spoilerish so I'll leave till the end.
On to the bad. It's true what they said. The people who hated it. Don't Breathe just isn't scary. However it isn't true that it's a suspenseful ride. It just never put me on edge. Never made me feel claustrophobic. There are so many films that got this right. The Descent, the end scenes of Silence of the Lambs, even the low budget Crawl or Die. The scenes of the protagonists fleeing in the trapped house were just to few and far between. More time should have been spent hiding, slowly creeping, trying not to make a sound.
And there was just too much sound. Ambient sound from the score, people talking, it was just too much. This film should have taken a clue from The Witch and had long moments of absolute silence. Then every sound would have been amplified, and shocking. Watch the end of the wonderful Tombs of the Blind Dead. Listen as the woman hides from the blind dead, being completely silent until we hear the sound of her heart, beating louder and louder as the dead moved toward her. That was fucking tension. That was fucking horror.
Now the rape scene, and ***Spoiler alert***there was no actual rape. A sexual assault/rape was planned but did not happen. There was a rape perpetuated but it was off screen, before the events of the film. Now I feel, personal opinion, that a rape can be used in a horror film, just as much as a murder, decapitation, disembowelment or immolation. Yes, it's a bad thing, but bad people in horror movies do bad things. In Don't Breathe though, the scene just interrupts from what we want to see, from what we paid to see, which is a bad ass blind man hunting down people who invaded his home.
What was this sub plot meant to do anyway? Was it to make him more of a monster? Or to attempt some amount of sympathy for him? It did neither. All the subplot managed to do was make our already barely likeable protagonists even less likeable. Why not leave the sub plot off. Allow the antagonist to be a more sympathetic character. A victim of a home invasion by morally ambiguous characters. Just a sad, man who snaps and goes nuclear on a group of kids. Or just make him a horrible, irredeemable character. It tried to hold the middle ground and it lost it all. Even the line “I'm not a rapist”, is that supposed to illicit sympathy? Make him look not quite so bad? It fucking failed miserably. If anything it made him look like a sick fuck and a pussy. Freddy Kruger never tries to justify what he does.
The protagonists themselves are not easily likeable. That's OK with me. I don’t have to like characters to feel or them, or to enjoy them as leads in a movie. I can even dig a movie with a sympathetic villain and unlikeable heroes if it's done right. The problem here is the characters are so typical. You know almost from the beginning who is going to live and die. Honestly if you have ever seen a handful of horror movies you should know exactly in what order they will bite it. If you have seen Don't Breathe, raise your hand if you called it. There's money the tough guy, packing heat gangsta wanna be (G-Money!!! Holla) who wants to escape Detroit, his girlfriend Rocky, who's in an abusive family and wants to escape with her younger sister, and Alex, the nerd who goes along on the robberies because of his hopeless crush on Rocky. OK even if you haven't seen Don't Breathe, raise your hand if you called it. BTW cheap ass low blow opening the film with a scene late in the movie to try and trick your audience Fede.
Still even with unlikeable characters this could have been a hit. Scrap the hostage/rape subplot and dedicate the majority of the running time to the characters running and fighting for their lives. Turn up that claustrophobia by using narrow hallways and basements, limited lighting and very sparse sounds. Scare the shit out of your audience every time you hear a foot scrape on the floor. Imagine ten minutes of silence, broke by a sudden small sound amplified out the ass. It's horror, be fucking scary.
The last thing I will say is I liked the final scene. OK I liked parts of the final scene and I have to spoil it so, look away Martha!!!! ***Spoiler alert***
At the end when we find out the bad blind guy isn’t dead (can you spell “sequel” kiddos?), Rocky makes the decision to get on the train and go on to her new life. Totally morally bad, no heroic ending that worked for me. To many times the average Joe, instead of making good on his escape goes back to be a hero. I just rarely find that believable. Rocky knows by keeping his secret, by walking away, he will probably kidnap and rape/not rape another girl. She knows and shes willing to live with that to escape with her sister. Of course in the sequel, the blind dude will probably fly to Cali and track her down, build a trap house and YAWWWWWWNNNN, make millions.
Don't Breathe was directed by Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead), and stars Jane Levy (Evil Dead), Dylan Minette (Goosebumps), Daniel Zovatto (It Follows), and Stephen Lang (Tombstone). Sadly I can only muster a limp 4 out of ten stars for Don't Breathe