Don’t Breathe

Horror films tend to try to achieve one of two things - scare the audience or entertain them. The latter is much easier to achieve, and this tends to be the approach of most Hollywood-esque horror films these days. Don't Breathe is no different. Rather than searching for true horror in the depths, it entertains in a rather stereotypical fashion. It is, however, a lot of fun, and well worth a watch - 7 out of 10.

What is the purpose of a horror movie, anyway? Is it to scare an audience or to terrify it? There are several ways of scaring a human being: say I was sitting or standing somewhere, minding my own business, thinking all is good with the world, when a tyre suddenly bursts with a loud bang. Would I not be scared? Of course, I would.

And this is the exact means through which most second-rate horror movies try to flare up our emotions. The good ones though – much like real world concerns of nothingness and nuclear annihilation – terrify us through their notions and the atmosphere they create.

I am a great fan of horror movies if they are done right, and the film is set in a world that is confining and disturbing in itself. Films like Psycho, Jaws and Nosferatu (both the Murnau and Herzog versions) are all great movies, but they did not necessary terrify me. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Carl-Theodore Dreyer’s Vampyr are the true essence of horror though. They took hold of me by the neck, and did not let go until a couple of days later when my nightmares finally subsided (slight exaggeration!). The words that come to mind when I think of them are ‘dread’ and ‘hopelessness’.

On the other hand, most horror flicks present us with a different sort of attraction; I do not even think most are meant to frighten us, but rather designed to entertain. As these films begin, we would be introduced to various teenagers, who will go to a camp or some faraway place where there is no phone signal. Right away, they will have all types of sex before they start getting killed one by one by some monstrous being, until all but one female (who gets to kill the monster in the end) is left alone. Don’t Breathe, which is playing at the Matti Cinema, is sadly formulaic along this same vein. It is meant to entertain. Strangely, however, it succeeds!

Rocky, Alex and Money are three small time crooks, who go house to house stealing and pilfering slightly valuable bits and pieces. They are not really bad people, the film promises, they are just trying to get ahead of their unlucky, pitiful lives. Rocky, who is a girl and the film’s protagonist, has a little shy sister who she hopes to cart off from a promiscuous, pathetic mother. And so, when the trio learn of a loner who is stocking away 300 thousand dollars in a safe in his own home, they lap up the chance.

The loner is actually a blind guy, who lost his sight when he was in the army. A while back, he had a daughter, but she died in a car accident. As a result, he was paid remunerations equal to the aforementioned amount of money by the parents of the girl who ran over his daughter. Stealing from such a man, who has had so much sorrow in his life, must be evil. It is also one of the best things about the film – there are no nice characters.

So, they break into the blind man’s house. All goes as planned, without much of a hitch. There is a room that is locked by a huge padlock and, figuring that this must be the place where the money is kept, they try forcing it open. Suddenly, they realise the blind guy has heard them.

From that moment on, it becomes infinitely clear why someone would keep that much money in his own house, instead of putting it in a bank. The blind man is actually as resourceful, strong and indomitable as The Terminator. He quickly bolts up the entire place so that the burglars cannot escape, and teaches them a simple and true enough lesson that they should have learned long ago – do not steal from the blind.

One of the film’s producers is Sam Raimi, whose Evil Dead trilogy I adore, and so should everyone else. Nonetheless, he is most famous for directing the first three Spider Man movies. In 2013, he produced a remake of the first Evil Dead movie, with Fede Alvarez (this film’s director) as director. The film had none of the original’s amateurish charm. In fact, it was so polished it seeped the heart out of the script. Alvarez does much better in Don’t Breathe, probably because there is nothing here to allude or pay homage to. The film is not a remake, a true story, a sequel, a spinoff or an adaptation, but an original – something rare in a multiplex.

I got out of the theatre thinking it could have been better though. It could have meant something too, instead of simply seeming wicked. The house was probably designed in a way that is meant to reflect the blind man’s mentality. It is dilapidated and grimy, like the blind man’s feelings towards other characters. But the film should have gone further and analysed the villain, instead of taking it for granted that anyone who is blind, on top of losing his daughter, would turn cruel like him.

The film has so many more faults, and a couple of plot holes. But as I write this review, I am trying to recall what the film made me feel at the moment I was watching it – it was so fun.

The idea of taking a blind guy – who, under normal circumstances, would be pitied and considered vulnerable and making him abominable and invincible was excellent. Don’t Breathe might not exactly scream horror, but it is certainly amusing while it lasts. And, although I could usually be found to lament that a film needs to have a deeper purpose than to simply entertain (at least to be awe inspiring), I am gladly turning a blind eye in this case.

By christian Tesfaye

Published on Oct 04,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 857]



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