Monday 12 September 2016

Don’t Breathe

Rooms Of The Blind Head

Don't Breathe
2016 USA Directed by Fede Alvarez
UK cinema release print.

I was quite up for seeing Fede Alvarez’ new movie Don’t Breathe when I first heard of it because the title, at least to me, implied that it was a horror movie. As it happens, a few weeks later I found out that it is not, in any way, an example of the horror genre... more of a ‘home invasion’ movie. Now I’m not a big fan of home invasion movies, as it happens. They tend to be nasty and sadistic in the intent of their main protagonists but... you know... not nasty and sadistic in a good, wholesome fun way. More something else. However, while there are some caveats in terms of the morality on display in this movie, it’s actually more of a heist goes wrong story than anything else. So that’s kind of cool and, once I’d understood that after seeing the trailer, I figured I might as well give it a go. Especially since it seems to have taken America by storm a few weeks ago.

Okay, so the film is about three burglars, one of whom 'borrows' the keys to various houses from his dad’s security firm so they can let themselves in and help themselves to people’s belongings when they’re out. Some minor character stuff is set up so we can get the idea that... not all of the criminals are bad. Some of them have just fallen on hard times and have other responsibilities. Yeah... okay that didn’t really work for me, to be honest. It’s much like the first time I saw Attack The Block (reviewed here), in that the film asks me to choose between a bunch of thugs (or burglars in this case) and another, possibly, depending on your point of view, even worse character or set of characters.

And that's one of only two real problems with the movie... I didn’t really care too much as to who got killed or didn’t make it to the end of the movie. They’re all as bad as each other so, that takes the heat off in terms of worrying about what’s going to happen to anybody, to be honest. That’s not to say, however, that the film is lacking in tension. Indeed, the film is to be praised as being unbearably taut and intense the entire way through. So even when you don’t care who gets what done to them, you will certainly be on the edge of your seat as the movie progresses.

To ratchet up the tension, the director uses the very simple trick of shooting the film almost as if it’s a certain kind of modern horror film. As I said, it’s not a horror film, it’s a straight thriller, but the director does his best to make you jump throughout the movie and he does so quite successfully, as far as I’m concerned. I must have reacted more jittery to this movie than most genuine horror movies I’ve seen at the cinema and even one of the ‘jump scares’ that is included to little effect in the promotional trailer, works so much better in the finished product, especially with some ferocious sound design kicking in, that it’s a brilliant set up to help make the audience feel uneasy, even before our three looting protagonists/antagonists (take your pick) have even made their first attempt at breaking and entering into the main central antagonist’s home.

The trick here is that the owner of the house is blind but he's ex-military... so he’s fast, tough, ferocious and agile when it comes to protecting his 'millions of dollars pay off' which a court of law awarded him after his daughter was killed in a car accident. So he not only wants to defend his home, but he bears a grudge against anyone who goes after his loot. He also has a ‘creepy secret’ in his basement which further enhances the moral slant of the story... just in case you were having any trouble with siding with 'heroes' who want to rob you of your money. Yeah, okay, there are a lot of clichés in this movie, including killing off one of the ‘so called’ good guys early on in the proceedings to show how tough the main antagonist is and just how much trouble the others are in, as he locks them down in his home with him.

At this point the film turns into a survival movie, relying heavily on what I call the cinema of predetermined chaos. Everything gets turned around in the confusion of a constant battering of intensity and people go back for objects or people they shouldn’t, drop things which will help the opposition, and just generally make silly mistakes so the writers and director can manipulate your emotions even more when those particular threads are pulled. However, like I said before, it’s a really well oiled example of this kind of cinema and, as I alluded earlier, my heart was pounding in my chest throughout a lot of this movie.

The film also has some nice little set pieces too and one in particular comes to mind, when the director tries to ‘out-Spielberg’ Spielberg’s work on one of his more inventive sequences in The Lost World (Jurassic Park II)... but I won’t say what that is because I really don’t want to spoil this one for you. There’s also an interesting sequence involving grey filters/overlays and some black contact lenses to make certain character’s eyes look like they are dilated but, again, I’ll leave that for you to discover for yourself.

Don’t Breathe opens strongly with a visually arresting sequence which, again, is something I won’t describe here but, in this particular case, I’d have to say that it was possibly a mistake to put this opening sequence in here. It’s basically a flash forward to a sequence right near the end of the movie, before the final act is played out and this means that it gives away certain truths about which characters are still in play in the main body of the film at this unspecified point in time. So the tension gets diminished somewhat by having that reveal play early on in the picture. But, there are still a few spills and chills left once the movie catches up to this point and, despite a little ‘sleight of hand’ in terms of one of the characters who keeps seeming to come back from certain death, one can only respect the writer/director’s call here in that the trade off between that opening and the majority of the rest of the movie was obviously worth it to him so... yeah, may have been the right call.

Also, more so, perhaps, than a lot of movies, this film owes an incredible amount of its tension and excitement to the beautifully unsettling score by veteran composer Roque Baños. I’ve admired his scores on other movies and this one is quite heavy and is dialled up in the mix a lot of the time, allowing some beautiful percussion effects to come to the fore and help to move the story along. There is supposed to be a CD release coming towards the end of this month and, I have to say, this one is most certainly ‘on the list’ of required purchases.

And that’s about it. I thought the ending of this film in terms of the very last scene was a little weak... with producer's eyes firmly looking towards the possibility of a sequel but, ultimately, this is absolutely cracking movie making and I would recommend Don't Breathe as a great, if jumpy, time at the cinema. Don’t miss this one if you enjoy films which genuinely make the blood pump faster and your hands grip the arms of the cinema seat. A very punchy and morally ambiguous film which will make you think for a while after the final bolt has been shot, so to speak. Catch it while you can.

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