Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Spoiler alert!

Filmmaker Fede Alvarez has crafted a neat reversal on burglary movies: Instead of the thieves secretly contriving to enter a house, here they are desperately seeking to exit the house. It’s not the going-in that matters, it’s the going-OUT. And Alvarez does something much more disturbing. He delivers a piece of relentless, savage horror with an artful panache that is just this side of the movie it most resembles: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

The three would-be robbers, played by Jane levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto, have targeted a blind and reclusive Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang), who lives alone in a blighted neighborhood. Legend has it that the accidental death of his daughter has left him with a stack of money secreted away in his dark old house. So off they go, confident they can get in, find the money, and get out, before waking the sleeping man. But no. The man’s preternatural senses wake him and enable him to stalk the very people stalking him.

The film plays upon our sympathies like a demented pianist attacking a keyboard. On the one hand, of course, there’s this poor old guy, alone, blind, the victim of these vicious robbers. On the other, we have three hapless thieves falling prey to a half-crazed guy who not only brutally attacks them with blazing guns and heavy hammers, but, it turns out, is hiding a nasty secret in his old dark house: He is holding captive the young woman who killed his daughter in a traffic accident. He will release her only after she delivers the baby that will replace the daughter she killed.

The second half of the movie is a nightmarish flight and pursuit through every room, attic, basement, trap door, and corridor. When the lights are on, the robbers have the advantage; when they are off, the power play reverses. And there is something especially creepy in the moments when pursuer and pursued—who is who continually shifts about—stand together in the same space, motionless, lights on or off, each waiting for the other to betray himself with the slightest sound or breath. Balancing the sheer audacity of the brutalities is the artful mise-en-scene. DON’T BREATHE is a miracle of canny camera placement and scene composition, almost elegant in its calculation and execution. Pursuer and pursued are constantly kept in the frame in every possible kind of shot composition. In other words, while we are repelled, sometimes disgusted at the atrocities depicted, we can appreciate the beauty of the film’s design. Here is the supreme paradox. How do we deal with unspeakable horrors when they are delivered with great artistry? Perhaps the former is all the more effective due to the latter.

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