Monday, 10 October 2016

Don't Breathe review

Don't Breathe is one of the heavy hitters of 2016's horror releases. I finally caught a screening the other night.

This review contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the movie, come back when you've seen it. 

If you've seen the trailers, you know the deal. Three delinquent thieves break into a blind man's house after hearing he's loaded. At first, they think they have the upper end -- until their prey turns the tables and kills one of them. 

For the first half, this movie is basically what would have happened if Wait Until Dark had been played from the villains' point of view. 

In any other movie, Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) would be extremely unsympathetic. However, director/co-writer Fede Alaverez (who made a bit of an impact with his remake of The Evil Dead a few years back) manages to ride the line of making their own plight believable and relatable, without condoning what they are doing. 

For the first half of this movie, this tension works in the movie's favour. Even when the Blind Man (Stephen Lang, terrific) joins the action, the movie manages to juggle both sides while ratcheting up the tension.

The person I was with felt the movie was at its strongest here, and was thinking it would end up like Sam Peckilnpah's Straw Dogs (1971), in terms of the way it objectively chronicles an escalation in hostilities between two parties that are not clearly delineated as good or evil.

Alas, this juggling act is dropped in order to make the Blind Man a flat-out villain. And the filmmakers go about it in an extremely distasteful way that left me extremely conflicted about the movie as a whole.

During their attempt to escape the house, Rocky and Alex end up in the basement, where they discover that the Blind Man has kidnapped and forcibly impregnated the woman who accidentally killed his child. When this woman is killed, the Blind Man captures Rocket and attempts to rape her with a turkey baster.

This subplot smacks of the worst kind of exploitation. Rape should not be used as an easy plot point, and the way Alaverez shoots the scene is so cavalier (one shot, lingering on a drop of semen hanging out of the turkey baster, is especially odious) that it threw me out of the movie. 

Clearly, the filmmakers were stuck trying to make their burglar heroes sympathetic, so the only way they could think to make their prey an antagonist was rape. This genre-fication of sexual assault has become a trend in pop culture that has to stop -- rape has become a convention of villainy that minimises a real-life issue, and it adds nothing to this movie's effect. 

For the most part, Don't Breathe is a strong horror picture -- but this shift into making the Blind Man a flat out sexual deviant robs the movie of its power. The more complicated character identification of the first half is far more interesting (and terrifying) than the second, where the Blind Man becomes Jason Vorhees and the movie downgrades into a cynical, manipulative and carelessly cruel slasher movie.

I recommend seeing it -- Alaverez is a good director of suspense -- but your mileage will vary with the shift in Act Two. 

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