Don’t Breathe and all the images you see in this review are owned by Screen Gems
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Oh look! It’s that guy who did the Evil Dead reboot! I actually thought that movie was really good, but then maybe I’m the only one who thought so considering we’re getting this instead and as far as I know a sequel has been indefinitely put on the back burner. That, and Ash vs The Evil Dead kind of drew all interest away from doing something new to instead milk the original franchise, but whatever. The reason that new Evil Dead works isn’t because it was a remake of a movie everyone loved, but because the guy they got behind the camera was a real talent and knew how to bring something new to a franchise that is about untouchable as the Back to Future; a series even Hollywood hasn’t had the guts to try and reboot yet. So now that the director’s remarkable skills are being used for an ORIGINAL horror film, does he still seem to be the next big genre filmmaker, or will this Raimi protégé prove himself to be a one trick pony? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows three dumb ass…. well I guess I can’t call them KIDS considering they have to be at least in their mid-twenties, but these three ragamuffins are a trio of burglars who go around Detroit and pull small time jobs to keep roofs over their heads and a slowly expanding rainy day fund. We’ve got Serious Bro named Alex (Dylan Minnette), Wild Card Bro named Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Girl Bro named Rocky (Jane Levy); all of whom have their own clichéd and contrived reasons for doing what they do. They hear about some blind dude who got a lot of cash after his daughter was killed by some rich kid in a hit and run, and so they figure this is gonna be the last score to get them out of Detroit and go straight to LA… where whatever money they score will probably disappear in a three months. Do you know how much stuff costs in that town!? Anyway, this turns out to be the last freaking house you’d ever want to B&E considering the guy may be blind but is built like a brick shit house which makes sense because he’s played by Stephen Lang. Will the thieves get out the house alive, and will we want them to by the end? Is there more to the blind man than just being a bad ass military dude you don’t want to fuck with? Just what kind of sadistic game of Marco Polo is this!?
It’s been a pretty decent year for horror movies, what with The Witch being one of the best movies period and Lights Out having a really fascinating premise to work with, and I think that this one is going to hit home for a lot of people out there. I myself was enjoying this immensely in the second act that showed such creativity in its set pieces and a clear mastery of film making that it made up for the laggy first act and the numerous horror movie tropes that the story indulged in. It’s a five star production on a two and a half star script, but when so many horror movies are made cheaply and often using the dreaded found footage style, this being so well made makes up for a lot of the scripts shortcomings.
And then the third act happens. This is not going to be the case for everyone, but for me the movie took a COLLOSAL nose dive towards the end and it felt like they were trading in genuine tension for cheap grotesqueness and jump scares, and by the end the movie just left me disappointed and unfulfilled. The movie is produced by Sam Raimi who made a similarly great film called Drag Me to Hell, but it also had a similar problem with the ending, though while that one managed to screw it up in the last three minutes, this one screws it up for about twenty. It’s a shame that I left the movie feeling so let down by the ending because the movie really is that good until that point. Too bad they just couldn’t stick the landing.
The movie starts off as basically any other horror movie which is where the problems here start. Someone has to tell horror writers that clichéd tropes are still clichéd even if they’re SAD clichés. Rocky in particular has a cartoonishly alcoholic mother who’s dating a cartoonishly dopy looking scumbag, but then she can’t just up and leave this toxic environment because there’s the angelic younger sister who she has to take care of; A younger sister who has SOMEHOW avoided any bad influences from her mother, who calls her sister a whore a bunch for seemingly no reason. At least she gets a backstory, unoriginal as it is, as Alex and Money are just tropes in human skin. Alex is the smart mature one who pines after Rocky (AKA The Nice GuyTM), while Money is some dumbass wannabe banger who is ACTUALLY dating Rocky. Why she’s dating him I have no idea, as the two don’t seem like it in the least and the only reason we know this is because Money exposits that shit right in our laps, so I guess it HAS to be true. So going into the house, none of them were the least bit likable or interesting which had me convinced that this was going to be another sub par torture porn extravaganza (make the characters unlikable so the audience can get off on them being slowly murdered), but as soon as they actually begin the job of robbing this blind guy, the movie comes to life. That makes sense I guess considering how so many of this movies strengths are purely technical and the house is where everything ends up happening, but they could have at least TRIED to make our heroes likable beforehand!
So what makes the scenes in the house (or at least the second half of the first act and the entirety of the second half) work so well? First is that you buy Steven Lang as a threat, even if he doesn’t have SUPER POWERS like the trailers are portraying him as having. He doesn’t. He’s pretty smart and he has HUGE muscles, but he’s not freaking Dare Devil and can be harmed at points given the right tactics are used against him. He’s still terrifying though because of how grounded it is that when the movie DOES temporarily stretch believability for a scare (the occasional teleport and unexplained escape whenever Steven Lang needs to show up somewhere), it’s really effective. I’ll give Steven Lang all the credit in the world for playing such a despicable and humanized monster in this, but he’s only half of the equation here as the filmmakers had some brilliant ideas for set pieces and came up with creative ways to increase the tension of certain scenes. A part of the movie where Steven Lang cuts the power which leaves HIM with an advantage as no one can see at that point is the definite highlight here; not just for the great conceit, but for how they film it. I’m not sure if this is what they used (or if they used a modified version of this), but it looks like that grayscale night vision from the Splinter Cell games, and it gives off a very creepy vibe, especially the way it obscures stuff from a relatively short distance away and how it makes people’s eyes look.
But then things go to hell once we enter the third act. I’m not sure how much I can actually talk about the third act considering how many of my issues with it pertain to plot points that would be considered spoilers. Instead, I’ll try to give you a general idea of one my pet peeves in horror films. The number one thing I can’t stand in horror is and this movie indulges in that to a depressing degree towards the end which ended up pulling me out of the movie completely. Now look, I love gory movies like Dead Alive, the Evil Dead movies, and even those Noboru Iguchi films when they were all the rage half a decade ago. Gore, violence, and horror as a genre though do not necessitate that there ALSO has to be cruelty which you will find in… well pretty much any Eli Roth film and a bunch of self-important half-baked shlock that’s trying to tell a message but the filmmaker has no idea what the fuck they are doing (*cough* Uwe Bole *cough*). The movie goes to a place that it doesn’t earn the right to go to, and it becomes completely unpleasant to sit through. And the thing is the movie did not need this. The film works on a visceral and adrenaline fueled sense of tension and anticipation as you sit on the edge of your seat waiting to find out what happens next and dreading what it could possibly be. The third act drops this completely though, at least in my opinion, and instead I just leaned back in my chair waiting for them to stop trying to wretch a few squirms out of me, and waiting for the damn thing to be over. All the tension was gone as I knew that whatever happened in this scene, things were ultimately going to go badly which made it just a waiting game for whatever next cruel shit was going to happen. In particular, a scene in the car did absolutely nothing for me as I knew exactly what was going to happen once that situation got resolved, and sure enough I was right. Lastly, and this is going to be vague as hell, I did not like the final moment where we get a last minute that feels PARTICULARLY tacked on because… the circumstances for this little ending twist to work are fucking impossible. That’s about as specific as I can get without spoiling anything. To give us a somewhat unhappy ending, they had to distort reality to an unfathomable degree and therefore I felt that the downer way the finished this off was completely unearned and left a bad taste in my mouth.
In a year that has had this many good horror movies, from the straight up classic that is The Witch to the out of nowhere and surprising nuanced of The Boy, it’s hard for me to say whether this is gonna be one of the standouts. It’s impossible to deny just how fantastic of a job the director (and probably the producers as well) did on this movie to make it as fine-tuned and gut wrenchingly tense as it was, but by taking the easy road on characterization in the beginning and by screwing it up as badly as they did at the end, I can’t help but feel that this is a major letdown. Sure, The Forest is an absolute shit show, but I wasn’t expecting anything from a January horror film, and it didn’t give me any reason to hope for anything better as I was watching this. The third act in this movie comes out of nowhere and probably has the same damning effect on this movie that the terrible twist at the end of The Last Exorcism had on that film, only that was the last five to ten minutes while this is the last twenty. I don’t know exactly how I would recommend this because I was enjoying it so much until it completely fell off a cliff, but it really does get that… uncomfortable at the end and never manages to recover. Then again, the direction it goes in at that end of the movie might just be a personal pet peeve of mine and there aren’t that many people who will cry foul or get overly upset by what happens at the end. I’m gonna come down on the side of recommending this movie as its strengths feel very obvious and can be appreciated by pretty much anybody, and the aspects I hated feel more like personal gripes and will probably affect everyone differently. Hell, maybe if everyone goes see this movie, we can FINALLY get that Evil Dead sequel! That would be worth it, right?
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