Don’t Breathe

 “Just because he’s blind, doesn’t make him a fucking saint.”

This has been an awesome 12 months for horrors and thrillers. From the spectacular Neon Demon to the deliciously nasty Green Room via the very cool The Purge: Election Year, 2016 has been the greatest time to be a fan of genre mashups.

Now with Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez re-teaming with the legendary Sam Raimi for his latest feature, I firmly believe that it won’t get better than Don’t Breathe this year.

I know I’ve said “one of the best films of the year” five or six times already and we’ve still got three months to go for 2016; as quickly as I say it, something else great comes out. I can’t help it, but I am pretty happy about it. Anyways… Don’t Breathe.

A young trio of thieves smartly steal low amounts of valuables and cash from the houses of rich people in Detroit so as to not get caught, before they are pointed in the direction of the run down house of a blind war veteran who is known to have a large amount of money stashed away. Willing to risk a little for what they hope is a monster pay out, robbers Rocky (Evil Dead‘s Jane Levy) Alex (Dylan Minnette, of Prisoners fame) and Money (It Follows‘ Danial Zovatto) break into the man’s house and set about raiding the place. Their problems begin once the old vet (Avatar‘s Stephen Lang) wakes up to find them rummaging through his stuff.

With little in the way of hesitation, the man kills Money with his own gun, setting off a tense hunt for the remaining intruders before they can steal his money and possibly uncover the reasons for the man having so very many locks around his house.

Instead of my usual thing of sneaking off to see a film to review, I went the whole hog for this one. I organised a sitter and took my wife with me to see it. Like we used to before we had our daughter. Lunch time film, food, popcorn, the whole nine yards. What a waste of money!

Not the film. The food!

Don’t Breathe is so tense and so nail biting that I just couldn’t eat my popcorn. As we watch the remaining thieves try to make a run for it from this lethal, terrifying man, everything grinds to a halt whenever the veteran is on the screen. The amazingly intense music stops – and so too do the three people onscreen – as the blind killer uses his other senses to find the remaining intruders. Even I stopped. Seriously, I left my hand in my popcorn, I stopped chewing, I held my breath lest the aggrieved veteran heard me and came for my sorry arse.

I’ve never had a film do that to me.

An amazingly simple premise; Don’t Breathe, like Green Room before it, has a less-is-more approach to the film. A tight setting that can make you feel claustrophobic mixed with a bad guy that is far, far nastier than you thought he was going to be when you first met him. It is a perfect recipe for tension. Alvarez’s amazing direction means that not one frame of the 88 minute runtime is wasted in needless shots and pointless exposition. Every single angle is delicately and deliberately thought out to bring as much of your arse to the edge of your seat as it possible can.

The chase through the house is so well filmed, making us feel like we are right there with Rocky and Alex as they check every nook and cranny for a good hiding spot or, better, an exit. Every time you think they’ve found a way out or gotten to a place that means they could get out of this ok, the film whips the rug out from under you, leaving you to land with a thud, face first, on the hard floor beneath. Just as you think it can’t possibly get worse, the old man’s real, horrifying secrets are revealed and your stomach just wants to give out on you.

Alvarez has a tremendously bright future ahead. Between this and Evil Dead he has made easily a couple of the best horror/thrillers of the last five years. Don’t Breathe isn’t a horror in the traditional sense of the word, but it is a truly terrifying experience that – yes, I’ll say it again – is one of the best films of the year.

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