Friday, August 26, 2016

In Theaters: DON'T BREATHE (2016)

(US/Hungary - 2016)

Directed by Fede Alvarez. Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues. Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Emma Bercovici, Franciska Torocsik, Christian Zagia, Katia Bokor, Sergej Onopko. (R, 88 mins)

Director Fede Alvarez made his mark on the horror scene with his surprisingly well-received and better-than-expected 2013 remake of EVIL DEAD. Once again teaming with co-writer Rodo Sayagues and producer/original EVIL DEAD mastermind Sam Raimi, Alvarez is back with the home invasion-thriller-with-a-twist DON'T BREATHE. In an almost apocalyptic Detroit (some exteriors were done in the Motor City, but the bulk of the film was shot in Hungary), Rocky (Jane Levy, outstanding in EVIL DEAD '13) is fed up with her abusive, white trash mom (Katia Bokor) and wants nothing more than to take her little sister (Emma Bercovici) and run off to California. Rocky's been stashing money away by breaking into houses with her dirtbag boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto, from IT FOLLOWS) and their nice-guy friend Alex (Dylan Minnette). Alex's dad manages a home security company, so that gives them easy (a little too easy--why wouldn't his dad have all the keys and alarm codes to his clients' homes at the office instead of at his own home?). Money gets word of an inner-city neighborhood completely abandoned except for one house. In that house is a recluse who's supposedly sitting on six figures he got in a settlement from a rich family whose teenage daughter accidentally ran over his own daughter. Casing the house and observing the owner (Stephen Lang) outside, the trio of nitwits are surprised to see that he's blind, the result of a bomb blast during his military days in Iraq. They manage to get in the house in the dead of night but they're no match for the fighting and weaponry skills of The Blind Man, who can take easily take them on despite his lack of sight. He starts by killing Money and isn't aware of Rocky and Alex until his enhanced sense of smell leads him to their shoes, which they took off and left in the kitchen. Fleeing the Blind Man and his vicious watchdog, Rocky and Alex end up in the basement, where they stumble on an entirely unexpected house of horrors.

The premise of a home invasion where the invaders become the hunted isn't exactly new, as Wes Craven's THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS did it 25 years ago. But Alvarez does a great job in the early going--despite beating you over the head with some bush-league foreshadowing--establishing some serious tension in every whisper, sign, and creaking floorboard potentially giving the trio away. Alvarez and Sayagues also take a big risk in not making the trio particularly likable, even if Rocky's doing what she's doing for herself and her sister, and friend-zoned Alex is doing it because he's carrying a torch for Rocky. Killing Money off first is gratifying to the audience since he's by far the most loathsome of the three and at that point, you're sort-of expected to be on the side of The Blind Man. Other than the business involving Alex's access to the keys and alarm codes, the first half of DON'T BREATHE will have you wound pretty tight and holding your breath in suspenseful anticipation of what happens next. But what happens next is the story moves to the basement, where there's a moderately clever scene shot with a low-lit camera after the Blind Man shuts off the power and Rocky and Alex are forced to wander around in total darkness, as blind as their pursuer but without his homefield advantage.

DON'T BREATHE's utter collapse begins with the reveal of what's in the basement and why it's there. And also, how it's there, because that doesn't seem too plausible, either. There's a really demented element that's brought to the forefront involving this discovery in the basement, and it all seems to be a long, drawn-out buildup to a gross-out gag that seems more in line with something that the Farrelly Brothers would've concocted in the late '90s. From then on, DON'T BREATHE becomes an endless series of plot holes and contrivances, with one major thread left dangling at the end that, upon any scrutiny whatsoever, makes the Detroit police look completely incompetent. Yes, it may seem silly and nit-picky to gripe about implausible story mechanics in some movies (I haven't even mentioned the dog chasing Rocky through the heating ducts), but it smacks of Alvarez and Sayagues recognizing that they've backed themselves into a corner, and instead of even bothering with a ridiculous deus ex machina, they choose to simply not address it at all. And sure, maybe some moviegoers won't even think about it, but it seems so glaring that it seems impossible to not think of it. Lang and Levy do some very good work here, with Levy in particular staking her claim as one of the great Final Girls of today's horror, but other than an extremely impressive sequence involving Rocky barricading herself in Money's car to avoid The Blind Man's dog that's a small masterpiece of blocking and editing, DON'T BREATHE's second half just completely flies off the rails into total stupidity when it had a really good thing going.

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