A trio of Detroit delinquents makes ends meet by breaking into houses and robbing them, although they limit themselves to taking only items instead of cash to avoid heavy penalty if ever they get caught. Alex (Dylan Minnette) uses his father’s position in his security company to acquire the necessary intel they require, while Money (Daniel Zovatto) is mainly in charge of selling the items for whatever amount they can get. Rocky (Jane Levy) does not intend to do this forever, but she is just waiting for a good break so she can take her daughter to California with her to start a new life. Their next target might turn that dream a reality for her. Blinded in combat, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) is a war veteran who won a six-digit settlement a couple of years back for the hit and run accident that killed his daughter. The three believe that this one will be a piece of cake given their next target’s condition, until they finally get into his house and realize that this guy must have more screws loose on his head than all three of them will ever have.
It’s been a while since we have seen Hollywood come up with a legit thriller that does not involve ghosts or too much violence. Oh, wait. This film is violent. Don’t Breathe is a breath of fresh air thanks to its premise. There is nothing new about its attack on the suspense thriller genre, but it makes sure to maximize what it has, and then add some plot complications here and there so as to fill up its hour and a half run without being boring. Come to think of it, how do you expand this storyline given the variables involved? You have three teenagers robbing a disabled man. How hard could it be?
And then the twists come along. We really can’t use first impressions as a good assessment of the people we are planning to take advantage of, now can we? While the twists are there to justify why the “victim” is so old yet so badass, they do help in convincing you of the possibilities. Otherwise, it would have been just too hard to suspend disbelief. The end result proves that the director and the screenwriter succeeded anyway. Besides, thrillers as just as good as their jump scares, right?
As for the technical aspects, the movie takes advantage of the enclosed space setting, with most of the screen time spent inside the house. This is effective in giving you a sense of intimacy, or perhaps the better term is claustrophobia, in terms of space. Everyone’s move is limited not just by their lack of knowledge of the house’s layout, but also of the floor area itself. The victim’s advantage is that he knows his home really well, but given his blindness, they all end up in an even playing field.
That is another notable aspect that should be celebrated here. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor? The line dividing these two labels are continuously blurred until the ending. The one being robbed is obviously the victim here, right? Until we find out that he has demons of his own that can pose a threat to the neighborhood if unleashed. Those teenagers are the villains, because you don’t just rob a helpless guy of his belongings and expect sympathy, right? Until we start rooting for the girl because she just wants a fresh start after all. Who doesn’t? These moral ambiguities provide a good distraction for whatever the plot may lack, forcing you to think about the circumstances even after you get out of the cinema.
Don’t Breathe is the kind of film that you want to watch on a boring weekend night, preferably with friends or family for some communal screaming and shouting. Watching it at the comfort of your own couch adds a little something extra due to that paranoia that you yourself might be getting robbed tonight. Or perhaps this really depends on the neighborhood you are in.