Anna Ivers returns home to her sister Alex after a stint in a mental hospital, though her recovery is jeopardized thanks to her cruel stepmother. Her dismay quickly turns to horror when she is visited by ghastly visions of her dead mother.
Rocky, a young woman wanting to start a better life for her and her sister, agrees to take part in the robbery of a house owned by a wealthy blind man with her boyfriend Money and their friend Alex. But when the blind man turns out to be a more ruthless adversary than he seems, the group must find a way to escape his home before they become his newest victims.
The central theme lying at the heart of 'Don't Breathe' is the sense of claustrophobia, a sense of being trapped/imprisoned. The director shows us a number of appropriate images like window bars, bars outside gates, prison like shadows being cast by Venetian blinds,etc. to drive home the theme. This theme resonates both in a literal sense with the kids being imprisoned in the house that they had planned to rob in the first place, as well as on a broader symbolic level because it is made clear that these youngsters aspire to break out of the 'prison' of life in a financially ailing Detroit and head for California.
This film at the heart of it is an exploitation film and certain details get revealed with the passage of time that in keeping with the genre of exploitation cinema, flirt with lack of realism and force you to suspend disbelief a bit. But what made it very easy for me to suspend disbelief and go along with the ride was Fede Alvarez's direction. Without his masterful directorial skills and storytelling, this film will not work, full stop. He elevates the film. The Giallo inspired visual texture that he uses with the red and green neon lights not just makes the film look vibrant, but also serves a thematic purpose. His camera is extremely active and he makes use of space in the interiors of the house skilfully. He uses extended long takes to raise the tension and his use of ambient noises and music is subtle and brilliant. The very first shot of the film itself is masterful in the way the camera moves from an overhead position gradually to a ground level one to reveal what's happening along with a gradual rise in the volume of the music.
Stephen Lang has to be admired for his performance. He brings a very raw, masculine physicality to his demeanour that truly makes him terrifying at times.
I think this is one of the best directed horror/thriller films I have seen for some time. It doesn't spend too much time in developing its characters. Both the sides in the conflict are not worth unconditional sympathy. The youngsters are low time criminals and the blind man is not someone worth sympathy either once certain details about his life and mental condition get revealed. I guess it was intentional on the director's part to stage the film with a degree of moral ambiguity where the viewer doesn't fully care for either of the two parties and in the end it works within the exploitation film framework.
To end, I'll say 'Don't Breathe' is a film that I would recommend more for the direction than for the script itself.
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