by Ste Wood
To summarise the plot of Don’t Breathe, a group of three burglars break into an blind, elderly war veterans house with the goal of stealing $300,000 he received when his only child was killed in a car accident. Tragic, right? But there’s more. See, after entering house and threatening him at gunpoint, the brutish Norman Nordstrom turns the tables on the home invaders and begins to pick them off one by one in the ultimate story of self-defence. In a film full of twists and turns, it turns out the biggest shock of them all came right at the start of the film when the gang of thieves are portrayed as the heroes of the film. Well, not heroes. But they are the sympathetic protagonists who we’re supposed to root for based on the fact that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Instead of a lead character that is against robbing a blind old man, the group argue about the plan for five minutes, then collectively agree that Norman is an easy target and his money will solve all of their problems
And for me, that was the biggest shortcoming of an otherwise commendable attempt at an original horror concept. It wasn’t the notably thin backstory provided for the three thieves, or the occasional horror cliché found through the 88 minute run time. It was the fact that after the mid-point character defining twist (which was spoiled by the trailer anyway), I wasn’t really rooting for either the blind bad-ass turned unstable monster, or the three able bodied criminals that sought to steal his life’s worth. I think the real problem with the protagonists motivation lies with the fact that we didn’t see enough of their individual plights prior to committing the robbery. Rocky, the social outsider, is shown arguing in a shabby trailer with her lazy self-entitled mother, while consoling her innocent younger sister. Her motivation for robbing the old man blind (so to speak), is a desire to escape with her sister to start a new life in California. And while the first half of the equation sounds noble, the ends would surely not justify the means to a decent person. Her two accomplices can basically be summed up as the one who’s a total dick, and the one who’s supposedly a nice guy (and has a thing for Rocky). That’s it.
In saying that, I should probably point out that Don’t Breathe didn’t get everything wrong, and definitely isn’t a terrible film. For every character I couldn’t care less about, there were plenty of tense moments with said characters creeping around in silence through a very stylish representation of total darkness. Instead of the glow-in-the-dark night vision effect we’ve come to know over the last decade, the scenes set in darkness are barely legible, in what will probably be the new standard dark-room effect we’ll come to know over the next decade. The use of silence is genuinely innovative, with characters choosing to keep quiet, instead of rattling on about how scared they are and how they hope the killer isn’t in the next room. These people act how you’d expect someone trapped in a blind mans death house to handle themselves. They shut up, don’t scream (or breathe), and try to stay put until they’ve got a concrete plan of escape.
The old me probably would’ve marked the film down for not actually being particularly scary. But after years of seeing every possible jump-worthy scenario played out in horror films, it didn’t shock me that the film had a total of zero genuinely scary moments. It did lean on the old creaky floorboards/he’s behind you tropes of the genre in places, but you can’t really expect anything less from a modern horror film that isn’t The Conjuring or Insidious.
Don’t Breathe is a very rare instance in film where the sequel will almost definitely be better than the original, now that Norman has been established as more than just a surprisingly capable robbery victim. Knowing the kind of monster he really is, it will be much more interesting to watch him hunt down Rocky, who will have swapped out her two forgettable companions in favour of her young sister. While we wait to see what the future holds for this shaky franchise debut, I’d recommend picking up the DVD/Blu-ray or catching on-demand when it comes out, but avoid paying the price of admission for this half innovative/half run of the mill home invasion horror.
Don’t Breathe is currently playing in cinemas nationwide.
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