Don’t Breathe opens on an extreme long shot pushing in on a woman being dragged down the street by her hair in broad daylight. The woman is Rocky (Jane Levy), one third of a lowly thieving group. Some time before this inaugural shot, the trio decide to pull a seemingly simple heist on the house of a blind man (Stephen Lang) whose daughter was killed in a hit and run. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it appears.
The camera work in the film is appealing, almost surprisingly so. Long shots and agile movement contradict genre norms, at least through the first act. As the trio first meander through the house of their victim, the camera is almost playful with its foreshadowing push-ins and freewheeling tracking shots.
The specific attention to props throughout the house add to this playfulness and the development of character. One need only see the frame of dirt on the wall over the blind man’s bed where a cross used to hang to witness this attention to detail.
Sound design, too, works in the film’s favor. A pulsating score and ringing sound effects puncture the perfect silence. At times, this stylized use of sound is overused where silence alone would have likely been more effective, but overall this soundtrack adds an ominous ambiance to the proceedings.
The narrative turn in the third act is sure to throw some audiences into scorn. It is unexpected and perhaps unwarranted. The film does begin to unwind in terms of tension at the onset of this turn, but it does not undermine the nail-biting pleasure of the first two acts.
Don’t Breathe uses a script composed mostly of silence—armed with a novel conceit and strong lead performances—to create an immensely tense thriller. The film’s use of sound and space is a testament to the careful direction of Fede Alvarez. This and a handful of white-knuckled moments make for a wonderfully intense experience, particularly in the first two-thirds.
Caution: this post-script contains minor spoilers
I have one major qualm with this movie on a logical front (dog jumping into a ventilation shaft notwithstanding): Why on Earth would this guy have a home security system that routes directly to the police? Seriously, that seems like a major oversight!
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)