Don’t Breathe

In the face of overwhelmingly little demand for this, The Fraudster’s Almanac proudly presents our first-ever joint review. This is a thing that you can read!

Jay: Don’t Breathe!

Does this movie title have an exclamation? It should.
Scratch that. The movie should be retitled altogether:
Three Millennials Fight a Blind Old Man and Lose
 
A few days back, my illustrious colleague invited me to watch something called Don’t Breathe, because he thought he’d love it and I’d roll my eyeballs at it. I’m not particularly pop-culture savvy, but usually with movies I’ve got an idea of what’s coming out. But I’d never heard of Don’t Breathe, never seen a trailer or a review or even a poster, didn’t know a single thing about it beyond the title. And that was exciting. When was the last time I’d seen a movie while knowing absolutely nothing about it? Aliens? (All I knew with that one was that my parents thought that Aliens was totally inappropriate for a seven-year-old kid. It was.)
So I took Mark up on his offer.

Mark: I, on the other hand, had been tracking this film for ages and eagerly awaiting its release. Don’t Breathe shares both a director and a lead actor with 2013’s remake of Evil Dead, a film that I absolutely loved and have re-watched several times. So excited, was I, to see what Fede Alvarez and Jane Levy would get up to this time, I decided to plug my nose and meet the other Fraudster at the Cineplex.
 Jane Levy
Jane Levy in Fede Alvarez’s really very awesome remake of Evil Dead
The Evil Dead remake had been unfairly maligned as “unnecessary” and a “cash-grab” (probably by people who worship as the alter of John Carpenter’s The Thing or Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly). Taken on its own terms, the film is a gloriously visceral and brutal funhouse experience, anchored by Levy’s wild-eyed turn as the film’s “heroine”, Mia. Seeing this kinetic verve applied to what was being referred to as a “clever take on a home-invasion thriller” seemed like a can’t-lose situation to me.

My good friend, who says he’s a doctor, tends to find the bad in things and use those points to explain why something isn’t good. What a terrible thing for a person to do, right? I’m glad that nobody has ever accused me of it. I was risking an argument asking him to come along, fully expecting him to try to explain to me why a horror movie’s characters act inconsistently, while still somehow maintaining that all of the terrible action movies that he was raised on are good for some reason.

But nothing ventured nothing gained, I suppose.

Jay: I know my illustrious colleague isn’t trashing The Thing or The Fly, but it’s important to point out that one can love those movies and not want to watch a malevolent tree force itself sexually on another victim; it was the worst part of the original Evil Dead. So for the record, I’ve never seen the remake.

As an aside, we went to the VIP theatre within the multiplex, and hoo boy. They basically give you a couch and a TV dinner stand, and have seat service if you want to order a burger or molten lava cake without the bother of standing up. It’s bizarre and unnecessarily extravagant when all most of us want to do (well, the functional alcoholics like my illustrious colleague) is simply have a beer while watching a movie.
Trailers! I knew with a seemingly braindead title like Don’t Breathe—seriously, you might as well ask someone to will their heart to stop beating—that this was probably a horror movie. And the trailers confirmed it. One was about the terrifying power of the Ouija board. One was a new entry in the Blair Witch series that appeared to match all the beats of the original (getting lost, coming out of the tents and finding the effigies, the creepy building at the end, the crying apology thing). There were more but I can’t remember them right now. I mostly remember my fellow Fraudster muttering, “Trailers are broken.”

Mark: I feel like we’re getting into some cross-talk here that may not be interesting or fun to read. My point in evoking The Thing or The Fly is to simply state that nothing is sacred or untouchable and that occasionally re-visiting existing properties can render spectacular results.

This is already novel-length and we haven’t even gotten to the movie yet.
This movie rules, by the way. It’s a horror movie, yes, but much more in the thriller vein. Given the unbelievable fountains of gore delivered by Fede Alvarez’s last feature (possibly the goriest major studio picture I’ve seen), Don’t Breathe actually shows a fair amount of restraint, opting for tension and “Holy shit!” moments over balls-out violence. Regardless of his tactics, Alvarez is two-for-two in making films that have my clapping my hand over my mouth involuntarily.
9d92a5b0-4b82-0134-3e1a-0ad17316e277
Jay: 
Alright, Mr. Raincloud, I’ll speed it along.

I really liked the cinematography and editing of the first act. It established the rules of the world quickly, the stakes, and the visual tone (pretty but gritty). When the pitch is made, let’s break into an old blind dude’s house and steal his money, I had a pretty good idea of where the movie was going, even if we hadn’t really seen the antagonist yet. This was distinctly more of a thriller than a horror in its set up, a reversal of the home invasion movie.

New title idea:
Panic Room 2: The Revenge
 
So once the three millennials were in the house, it seemed pretty clear how the rest of the movie would play out, in every way but the details. (And once I realized they really were going to battle a blind dude, the name of the movie finally made a bit of sense.) For the first two thirds, I’d say the movie was taut and, while not predictable, more or less what you’d expect. But then from one relatively surprising turn, the whole thing seems intent on outdoing both itself and the viewers’ expectations of tension.

Mark: And for the most part, this attitude of one-upmanship works really well straight through to the conclusion. The film seems to recognize that it’s trading off the clever, deliberate beats that it had worked to establish in its front half in order to capitalize on increasingly ludicrous, shocking and – ultimately – entertaining turns as things ramp up. Many of the gags, while not believable or even logical in the strictest sense, are inventive and laugh-out-loud surprising. For me, the film’s rather modest scope yielded returns that left me completely satisfied and happy… albeit with a few questions.

First: Why does the villain talk like Bane? It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t make any sense.

Jay: Second: Why on earth wouldn’t you bring a flashlight to a 3am robbery of a blind man’s house?

I was also mostly along for the ride, with only one exception that pulled me out. As alluded above, there was this constant push-pull because of the three millennials being so goddamn dumb. On the one hand, I thought their pulling-punches approach was totally earned by the script, but on the other hand, there were a few too many moments where their behaviour veered into having genuinely bad survival instincts. It’s hard to root for characters who are demonstrably more stupid than the audience.

But the slathering, spelunking, hyper-intelligent monster dog? That was hilarious and great.
maxresdefault
It’s funny how, in a movie that was mostly set-pieces, in a script that blurted (in a Bane deadpan) that atheism leads to unyielding human brutality, that the screenwriters tossed in a little callback / visual metaphor. It was maybe the moment when I realized this team has their sights set on broad appeal from moviegoers, which honestly is A-OK to me. That clash, between their almost comically savage worldview and making something that mainstream audiences could digest, really worked for me.

Mark: It worked for me too. This flick is clever enough to know which muscles to flex in terms of ingenuity and which not to bother with. It allows itself to be just simple/stupid enough to skate along briskly without being vapid or grating. There’s nobody to cheer for, other than yourself. You can cheer for yourself for having chosen such a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

You mentioned “millennials” and I cringe at the label. These are young people in a horror/thriller. As such, they’re really not much different from the teens that we’ve seen in horror movies from the 80s or 90s, or even today. They don’t seem much smarter or dumber than the standard cannon fodder of this genre. This movie isn’t reaching for You’re Next levels of genre subversion. It’s comfortable allowing both sides of a conflict to be sometimes-smart, sometimes-stupid. There’s something timeless about that, and I figure that this film will do quite well on home video and will vastly outlive any of the “millennial” trappings that folks may allude to.

That’s right. I’m calling it. Don’t Breathe will be remembered fondly.

Let’s just hope that there’s no sequel. (There will be a sequel)


Jay: 
I brought up the “millennials” thing because it’s the easiest reading of the movie. There is a pervasive opinion right now—or perhaps just the pervasive opinion of said pervasive opinion existing—that people born from 1980 onwards are a bunch of spoiled ingrates with no moxy, who expect everything handed to them, who don’t know the first thing about the “real world”, especially compared to their parents’ generation. And this movie simply reinforces that idea. Seriously, a blind man who probably qualifies for the senior’s discount at his local Denny’s outsmarts and overpowers a handful of twentysomethings with all their capacities intact. It’s true that horror movies have been full of dumb kids for ages, but the fact that this is a young person versus a baby boomer (rather than versus a monster or something) led me to this reading. I’m not saying it’s a reading I like, because I’m already irritated to shit with the endless thinkpieces arguing for and against a generation that inherited downward social mobility. But I can’t help but see it in the movie.
dont-breathe-stephen-lang-as-the-blind-man
Overall for me, Don’t Breathe was 90 tense minutes that were mostly forgettable. The genre movies that endure usually have some sort of other thing, be it an utterly original concept or menace (Jaws), or philosophical concerns (Terminator 2), or a great protagonist (Ellen Ripley from the first two Alien movies), or tap into something that is relevant to the period when they were made (Night of the Living Dead). I’m not sure Don’t Breathe has any quality beyond people uttering the footnote, “Oh yeah. I saw that. It was alright.”
But I guess we’ll find out!
Any last thoughts, illustrious colleague?
Mark: I’d like to give an A+ to Don’t Breathe, the film that allowed me to trick Jay Hosking into writing a thinkpiece about millennials!

Jay: Blech.

Mark: c674d5746f3f669964324fc1faf8e415
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Author: markmeeks

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