An often tense and claustrophobically clever thriller, a little more humility would have done “Don’t Breathe” the world of good.
When a gang of three opportunistic burglars get a tip off about an easy mark, it seems like their ship has come in. One easy job and they can escape their dead end Detroit lives forever. After all, how difficult could it be to burgle the isolated home of an old blind man?
Co-written and directed by Fede Alvarez, “Don’t Breathe” is an effective twist on the home invasion trope which unfortunately can’t resist showing you just how clever it is. While it manages to generate some moments of genuine dread, the film is just so pleased with itself that it ends up telegraphing the jump scares minutes in advance. In fact, Alvarez seems powerless to avoid using the Swooping Camera Of ForeshadowingTM which swoops and soars through the house pointing out things which will be significant later with a breathtaking lack of anything approaching subtlety.
Fortunately, it manages to keep one or two twists in reserve, deploying them at just the point where you stop wondering how our ‘heroes’ are going to escape and start wondering how they can stretch the premise out for a whole 90 minutes.
There’s an eerily timeless, lo-fi quality to its portrayal of the urban decay of Detroit that mimics that of “It Follows” but it’s mainly thanks to a towering performance from Stephen Lang as the Blind Man and a gutsy turn from Jane Levy that the film transcends its directorial hubris and encourages you to overlook the plot holes and contrivances and just enjoy the. There’s an admirably unsentimental streak to the storytelling, but just as it looks set to deliver a satisfyingly standalone tale of terror, it sells its soul incredibly cheaply at the end, setting up the possibility of an undeserved and unnecessary sequel.