By Josiah Wampfler
There are two films this year that are masterclasses in how to make a thriller: “10 Cloverfield Lane” and “Don’t Breathe.” In this small, terrifying story of a robbery gone wrong, director Fede Alvarez brings suspense and tension to a whole new level. The title is not an accident. Throughout many sequences in this film, you will not be able to breathe.
One of the things that makes “Don’t Breathe” so captivating is the surprisingly great character work. Right from the start (after one of the most incredibly chilling opening shots I have seen), Alvarez endeavors to craft characters that the audience can truly connect with and he brilliantly succeeds. These people are broken, desperate, and quite reckless, all for different reasons, with stories that we can sympathize with and understand. They all want to escape the equally broken city of Detroit, the backdrop of the entire film that perfectly adds to its wonderful aesthetic. These are characters that we can root for through thick and thin, something that is desperately needed in a tale as dark and disturbing as this.
But though the characters and the superb actors who portray them are the heart of what makes this film great (Stephen Lang is TERRIFYING), it is the technical aspects of the film that truly sold me. The cinematography is beautiful, in a horrifying way. The music is haunting and adds to the ridiculous amount of tension throughout the film. And Alvarez clearly knows where to put his camera at every second of the film.
There is a specific shot toward the beginning of the film that immediately had me thinking this film was going to be a best of the year. Alvarez smoothly sails throughout the house as our characters silently search it, weaving through doorways and floating through floorboards. As he goes throughout the house, he points out certain objects along the way. Then, as the film progresses, Alvarez brilliantly checks off each of these items as they go off like individual Chekhov’s guns.
After the film was over, my heart was still racing and it didn’t stop until I had gotten miles away from the theater. “Don’t Breathe” is in many ways an exercise in Sadomasochism, never letting up on the pain and horror that it wishes to inflict on its characters and its audience. It is not a film for the faint of heart, but for those who can handle it, it is one hell of a ride!