Sunday, 5 July 2020

Don't Breathe by Alvarez & Sayagues

As part of my personal film festival in these strange days I've been revisiting some favourite movies from recent years, and I was very pleased to catch up with this one again. 

Don't Breathe is often described as a horror film. Indeed, the Blu-ray cover trumpets it as the "best American horror film in twenty years." But I wouldn't call it a horror film at all...

I'd call it a suspense thriller. For a start, there's nothing supernatural about it. It's the story of three young burglars in Detroit.

And that crumbling, semi-abandoned, post-industrial city — a sprawling and eerie urban ghost town — is one of the stars of the movie. 
Indeed, some of its images that remain most vividly in my mind are director Fede Alvarez's breathtaking, moody aerial shots of Detroit.

The highly talented Fede Alvarez comes from Uruguay. He made his feature debut with the Evil Dead remake and would go on to direct The Girl in the Spider's Web, another movie I admire. 

He also co-wrote the excellent script for Don't Breathe, with his regular collaborator Rodo Sayagues. It charts the story of Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto).

Incidentally, 'Money' is a bad choice of name...  at a crucial point in the movie Rocky sends a text about him and we don't know what the fuck she's talking about.

But that's just about the only slip up in this taut, perfectly plotted and beautiful thriller...

Anyway, Money is a scumbag criminal who is on this robbery spree for the money. (What else?)

So is Rocky — but with her, the money is a means to an end. She's a single mother and wants to escape to a better life for her and her daughter. 

Alex is providing them with entry codes for the alarm systems of houses, purloined from his dad's security company.

He is nominally in it for the money, too. But actually he's in love with Rocky, who is going out with Money, the scumbag.

The three of them have a fairly successful little burglary business going on, until they overreach themselves breaking into the isolated house of a blind man (Stephen Lang) who is supposedly sitting on a fortune...

If I tell you that the blind man is actually a tough and resourceful war vet, then you may be able to see how this home invasion could go badly wrong.

Indeed, in other hands, this would be the story of how a plucky handicapped fellow overcomes all odds, and triumphs over the young thugs who break into his house...

But thanks to the cleverness of Alvarez and Sayagues, this is completely inverted. 

The blind man is the menace in the story and we are choked with terror, desperately hoping that Alex and Rocky, at least, will be able to escape from his house alive.

Don't Breathe is expertly written and beautifully shot, with cinematography by Pedro Luque and music by Roque BaƱos, both also Alvarez regulars.

But perhaps the film's greatest asset is Jane Levy, who so movingly communicates Rocky's terror in this hellish situation she finds herself trapped in — you can see the fear in her face in the superb stills illustrating this post, by ace photographer Gordon Timpen.

Don't Breathe is a meticulously constructed roller coaster ride and when it finally concludes, leaving the sweat of fear to dry on us, all the loose ends seem neatly tied up.

So I would have said, don't hold your breath waiting for a sequel.

But in fact one is in production. And, since it is co-written by Alvarez and Sayagues again — with Sayagues moving up to director this time — I would suggest you make a note of it.

If it's half as good as Don't Breathe it will still be on my must-see list.

(Image credits: All are from IMDB where the superb stills are by the aforementioned  Gordon Timpen of the Society of Motion Picture Still Photographers, © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved. And all images are the property of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and are for promotional use only. Okay, dude?)

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