Don’t Breathe turns one thing that’s common in the horror genre on it’s head: most often films will start with a solid concept, but then they break down by the third act into a typical cat and mouse game and too often with leaps of logic to tie the ends together. Breathe decides to go another route – they start out with a stunningly stupid premise and then by the second half somehow pulls out of its nose dive enough to prevent it from being an utter failure.
The story follows three going-nowhere teenage house thieves (Alex, Money, and Rocky) who have been targeting upscale houses by way of one of the three, Alex (Dylan Minette), whose father runs an alarm and security company and has access to the houses codes. The plan thus far seems to have been solid – they wait for the home owners to be away on vacation, then nab the codes, walk in, and walk out with the loot. The challenges comes that they seem to be running out of suitable targets. So they decide to change their plan of attack. One of the other teens, Money (played by Daniel Zovatto) gets a tip about a six-figure sum of cash reportedly being kept at the home of an aging and blind Gulf War vet (played by Stephen Lang).
Reportedly the vet is largely infirm because he never leaves his house, but then it seems he doesn’t have to because he had a daughter who was run over and killed by a girl from a wealthy family, and the girl’s family paid the vet off with a handsome cash settlement. An early scene has the kids talking extensively about how they only stick to their pre-agreed plan because it’s safe and largely reliable. In a hot second they do a 180 and decide to jump into a house that’s not only occupied, but occupied by a special forces vet. Their caution starts off dropping low, but when they start their break in plans and start to discover that the house’s doors and windows aren’t as they’d expected, they still choose to break more of their own rules and push ahead anyway. Their motivation and rationale to each other seems shockingly contrived and rings entirely hollow. It’s that lack of any kind of real belief that they would really try this heist that all but details the film.
Once they’re inside the house they find that it appears to be almost as hard to get out of as it was to get in. The film pivots to an infinitely more tense version of the classic thriller Wait Until Dark. Just as Audrey Hepburn was in that film – even through the vet is blind, he knows every nook and cranny of his home, and while he’s used to operating in the dark, when the lights go out, the teen’s only advantage vanishes just as quickly.
There’s a third act twist that sets up that there’s more going on than had first been perceived which spins everyone off base. Time and again, the teens have to make choices that are so wildly against their established self-preservation instincts that it just loses it’s ability for the audience to buy into it. That said, Lang’s performance as basically an evil version of the superhero Daredevil redeems the film and helps lift out of a full dismissal to something more of a see it at a matinee rate suggestion.
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