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John’s Horror Corner: Don’t Breathe (2016), so much more than a home invasion movie with a dark secret.

August 27, 2016

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MY CALL:  Far from a home invasion movie, this film is much more than you’d expect from the trailer…and way more brutal. This was an entertaining thriller that unexpectedly unfolds.  MOVIES LIKE Don’t Breathe:  Maybe 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) for more crazy recluse action or Hush (2016) for more sensory impairment horror.

At first I was honestly not excited about this film despite the fact that it stars Stephen Lang (The Monkey’s Paw, Into the Badlands), who I tend to like as the moderately older yet still tough guy (e.g., Avatar).  I mean, I was gonna’ see it—but I intended to wait for HBO.  The story of a group of twenty-somethings robbing a surprisingly capable blind war veteran and having it blow violently up in their faces simply didn’t appeal to me as a way to spend $10 on a Saturday afternoon.  And that’s all the early trailers showed us…however, newer trailers indicated that there might disturbingly be more to the story.

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But then it was pointed out to me that the lead was Jane Levy (Suburgatory)—who starred in the Evil Dead remake which I actually very much enjoyed—and that Fede Alvarez, who also wrote and directed the Evil Dead (2013) remake, wrote and directed this.  You’ll also notice (in my parenthetical annotations, like these) that our three home invaders have been cast by actors with a fair bit of horror experience.  Okay…nooooow I guess I’m on board.

So Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette; Goosebumps, Let Me In) and Money (Daniel Zovatto; It Follows, Fear the Walking Dead) are three young criminals who intend to rob a blind man (Stephen Lang; The Monkey’s Paw, Salem) of his wealth which he evidently keeps as cash hidden in his home…rather than a bank, annuity or investment account.  Of course, as the trailers clearly forecast, it doesn’t go as planned.  The blind man is aware of their presence, traps them in the house and proceeds to hunt them down.

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But why doesn’t he just call the police?  Because this is more than a simple home invasion movie.  Our blind man is hiding more than just money in is largely abandoned neighborhood—he has something to hide and he’ll go to great lengths to keep his secret.

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Much as she did in in the Evil Dead remake, Jane Levy physically undergoes some tough scenes for the sake of her art.  From sexual assault and generally taking a beating to close-quarters dog attacks and tunnel ratting, Levy did more to build this film’s intensity than most already-mainstream actresses would ever consider.

SIDEBAR: In the past I’ve praised some actresses for what they physically endure on film: Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist), Jenny Spain (Deadgirl), Isabelle Adjani (Possession), Elma Begovic (Bite), Linda Blair (The Exorcist), the entire cast of The Descent, Monica Belluci (Irreversible), the women of Martyrs, Charlotte Gainsbourg (AntichristNymphomaniac), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell), Danielle Harris (Halloween), Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), the cast of The Human Centipede films, and all actresses from the I Spit on Your Grave films, the women of all other TCM old and new and Last House on the Left films/remakes, Monica Bellucci (Irreversible), that poor woman in Cannibal Holocaust, and now we must add to this list Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe).
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In fact, the whole cast (Lang, Levy, Minette and Zoyatto) see their fair share of enduring physically violent scenes. Not that they didn’t have some help from stunt doubles, but I imagine the cast walked away from the set with quite a few bumps and bruises at the end of filming.

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Perhaps providing him with more ammunition in his campaign to play Cable in the Deadpool sequel, Lang really brings the intensity on many levels.  I think he was channeling a PTSD iteration of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s shut-in headcase (i.e., John Goodman).  At first, it’s a quietly lethal intensity, later escalating in pitch to the desperate shrill of a war cry.  As he shifts gears from defense to offense, his home intruders likewise shift from playing a silent game of cat-and-mouse to fighting for their lives.

Stephen Lang stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

I may not have been handed quite enough to care about the pseudo-protagonist home invaders (mostly Levy’s character, really), but the situation felt more than sufficiently dire for me to feel nervous for them at first, and terrified for them later.  And not just dire, but outright BRUTAL.  The violence in this is brutal and, although limited to blood and swollen bruising make-up, the bloody effects felt pretty intense—clearly efficiently magnified by the situation.  When Lang gets his hands on these young criminals you quickly learn to fear for them.  And when Lang hits them, it hits deeper than Rocky’s blows in the final round.  His strikes aren’t striving for glory or desire; he’s trying to beat you to death and I believed him every time he made a fist or clutched a throat.

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Lang is intense as the hound, and Levy a magnificent hare.  We also see echoes of Sam Raimi’s influence (he’s a producer) with some of the neat sweeping shots, the dreaded cabin-like isolation, and the use of the infrastructural guts of the house.  The most notable “new” dimension added to this film was the occasional use of total silence when you find yourself listening along with Lang for the sound of their breath.

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Folks, I agree that the premise probably sounds lame.  But this flick is pretty awesome and after 20 minutes it doesn’t even resemble a home invasion movie.  See this, applaud Levy’s dedication to rough roles, reconsider Lang as a petite Cable and, most of all, ENJOY!

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