An elderly man drags a young woman across an abandoned city street at sunrise. Although she is clearly alive, her body leaves a continuous bloodstain running across the pavement.
This opening shot to Fede Alvarez’s surprisingly cinematic new horror film “Don’t Breathe” sets the tone for the gruesome horror that follows.
The film follows Rocky, Money, and Alex, three Detroit-area teenagers who rob rich people in hopes of escaping poverty and living large in L.A.
To secure the luxurious lifestyle they desire, they decide to rob a blind man. Sounds easy, right?
After the heist begins, the teens discover that the old man is hiding a lot more than money, and that he isn’t willing to go down without a fight.
This premise works, as the viewer is left almost immediately conflicted.
Rocky, played in an all-out performance by Jane Levy, is incredibly easy to identify with, as her motives are pure. The sole reason she refuses to abandon the heist at the first sign of trouble is because she is desperate to take her younger sister away from their unstable home.
The blind man, played by Stephen Lang, is at first pitiable. He lost his sight in combat, his daughter was killed, he lives alone, and is seemingly defenseless.
As the film continues however, we learn that the blind man is not as helpless as he first appears, and is able to efficiently pursue the teens through the tight corridors of his home despite his lack of sight.
Audience sympathies continue to waiver after a wickedly clever plot twist (although one that is unfortunately spoiled in the trailer) adds another disturbing layer to the plot.
Things take a dark turn, quite literally, as the blind man kills the power and leaves the thieves wandering through the dark.
Shot entirely in night vision, the camera twists and turns in front of the teens as they try to feel their way through the foreign territory in one of the film’s most memorable sequences.
Ultimately, the film is at its best — and its scariest — when tapping into this feeling of claustrophobia. Cinematographer Pedro Luque makes full use of the effect by gracefully maneuvering the camera through the house’s tight corridors while following the action.
Luque takes advantage of the film’s constricted set by having the blind man appear quickly and without warning from around a corner or just out of frame, resulting in some refreshingly effective jump scares.
The lighting also adds to the film’s overwhelming atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia. The orange-tinted antique lamps adorning the walls blend with the green fluorescents flowing through the windows to create a sickly shade a green that overtakes almost every corner of the set.
“Don’t Breathe” is a fantastic exercise in horror cinema because almost every single detail works to either conflict or put the viewer on edge. The only fault with the film is that the ending runs a bit too long, abandoning the confined corridors of the house for the wide-open streets.
Overall, “Don’t Breathe” is a smart, original, and highly effective horror film that develops modern horror conventions by pushing them to their extremes. Alvarez knows what horror fans want, and he knows how to treat them with respect. As a result, “Don’t Breathe” is sure to become a classic of modern horror cinema.