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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 4, 2016

Don’t Breathe Movie Review: A Tense And Pulse-Pounding Suspense-Thriller

WE WENT to “Don’t Breathe” prepared not to like it because we know from its trailer that the lead characters are thieves who went to the house of a defenseless blind man to rob him. How can we sympathize with them?

But Director Fede Alvarez (“Evil Dead”, “Panic Attack”) certainly knows what he is doing to hook our attention. The lead character is a young woman named Rocky (Jane Levy, “Evil Dead”), who robs the houses of rich people in Detroit with her boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and friend Alex (Dylan Minette), who’s obviously also in love with her. Alex’ father works in a security company for private homes, so he has access to keys that give them the chance to break into homes easily.

Rocky is not really that evil. She comes from a broken home, her mother being an irresponsible whore, and she has a little sister to whom she wants to give a better future. Her boyfriend Money cooks up a crime that can change their lives for good. In an abandoned community in Detroit, there lives a blind man (Stephen Lang, “Avatar”) who is alone in his home in the deserted neighborhood. His only daughter died in a car accident and he was paid about $300,000 as cash settlement. Money believes that such a huge amount is waiting for them in the blind’s man home and they can just go and take it. Easy. No sweat.

But as we all know, the best laid plans are often not really the best ones after all. It turns out they underestimated the blind man as he is not at all helpless, being a war veteran who certainly knows how to defend his home from the invasion of these thugs. The first casualty is Money and we feel no sympathy for him as he is portrayed as a good-for-nothing hoodlum from the start, even urinating on the floor of the home they were robbing in the opening scene. When the blind man kills him, we even say “Buti nga sa’yo. You deserve it.”

But when it comes to Alex, we have some reservations because you can see he’s really a nice guy at heart. He was on his way out to leave Money and Rocky after he finds out that Money is carrying a gun. And yes, Rocky gets our sympathy as we know she’s not doing it out of greed but to help her kid sister and take her to a new life in California.

Of course, it’s wrong to root for someone who’s stealing money from a reclusive blind man, but we do, because it turns out the blind man himself has a deep dark secret like the bad guys in “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Room”. So the moral dilemma in Rocky’s character is not really that complex after all and we shift our loyalty from the invaded blind man to her.

In a tight thriller like this, establishing the film’s claustrophobic geography is very important and the director does it beautifully with impressive camera work using unbroken dolly and tracking shots that clearly demonstrate to us the space between the characters that is so vital in this kind of confined and limited set-up. Another amazing sweeping shot is the one where the camera goes under the bed of the blind man to ominously show a gun that will obviously be used later.

The acting is quite remarkable. Jane Levy is quite fearless in doing very physical scenes and she manages to make us care for her even if her character is only sketchily developed. Stephen Lang is at first looking very harmless as the blind man but turns out to be a deadly and menacing predator as the film unfolds. As we get to know more about him, the more he becomes terrifying.

Many gripping scenes are created with a lot of tension as they play a deadly cat and mouse game, especially in the scary basement sequence when the blind man turns off all the lights ala-”Wait Until Dark”. Viewers who enjoy thrillers, horror flicks and lots of violence surely won’t be disappointed. This works better for us than the stupid “Lights Out” and “The Purge” franchise.

And yes, there is also a ferocious Rottweiler dog that provides much shock value to make your heart beat faster in a number of high adrenaline scenes that are full of palpable and pulse-pounding urgency. If we have a complaint, it’s a plot twist in the final act that requires much suspension of disbelief. Someone we thought is dead turns out to be still alive and it appears they’re doing this in case there would be a sequel. And from the looks of it, there just might be as “Don’t Breathe” is proving to be such a big blockbuster as it’s currently the numero uno movie in the U.S. box office.