Movie Review: Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe (2016)

Rated R: For Intense Blood And Gore, Strong Language, and Some Sensitive Themes

Running Time: 88 minutes (1 hour and 28 minutes)

Genre/s: Caper, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Released On August 26, 2017 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Ghost House Pictures, Good Universe, Screen Gems, and Stage 6 Films

Writers: Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues

Director: Fede Álvarez 

  • Jane Levy as Rocky
  • Dylan Minnette as Alex
  • Daniel Zovatto as Money
  • Stephen Lang as Norman Nordstrom / "The Blind Man"
Source 1, Source 2
The latest installment in the Saw franchise, cleverly titled as "Jigsaw", in an attempt to distance just a little bit from its predecessors, is currently in theaters, and while I have not watched it myself, chances are that the new feature-length motion picture is either going to be a thriller flick, or an absolute bust. And speaking of most thriller flicks in general, most of the recent releases have been dull at best, but this single film truly stands-out, because it is really just messed-up beyond all reason. We will got into further detail later.

Once more, in the spirit of All Hallows Season, which is about to end, we continue to review some more horror and thriller movies that we have recently watched. Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and this is our official review of the simple yet disturbing thrill ride, Don't Breathe, a great movie that arguably has one of the worst marketing departments in movie-making history, as evidenced by the spoiler-filled trailer below!

Also, this movie is seriously weird and freaky, and you will be reading things that might horrify you. As such, a parental advisory is in order!


What is the movie about?

Three amateur burglars, Rocky, played by Levy (Evil Dead Remake), Alex, played by Minette, and Money, played by Zivatto (Both Minette and Zivatto appeared in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) decided to break into a lowly household, far from the reaches of neighboring homes. The homeowner is a former soldier named Norman Nordstrom, played by Lang (Avatar), who is rendered blind by a grenade blast, and with that knowledge, it is just the seemingly perfect place for a burglary.

What none of them realize is that Nordstrom, being an expert military man, is more than what he appears to be. With unique skills received from his time in the army, Nordstrom decides to make the three trespassers' night a living nightmare, and proceeds to stalk them all across the treacherous and dark hallways of his home. With no possible means of gaining help from the outside, Rocky, Sam, and Money must navigate themselves to safety, while also discovering the terrifying secrets hidden beneath the grounds of Nordstrom's house.

What we think of the movie?

Strangely, I was not expecting too much from Don't Breathe, especially in this era of cliche-riddled fiascoes, but there is something about this movie that makes it wholesomely disturbing. No, it is not gore or jump scares, because this one lacks either. I have to be honest though. For all of its efforts to be scary and nerve-wrecking, with most of which ending-up working, the screenplay manage to encounter a lot of the typical cliches that you would come to expect from a movie such as this one. These cliches also affect the characters as, while completely not devoid of any personality, reduces them to tropes.

Appearing in countless movies already, with James Cameron's space opera Avatar being his so-far most notable outing, people might have had a few clues on just how perfectly grim Lang's terrifying portrayal of a man with serious unresolved personal issues can give all of us chills. Thanks to Lang, not only did we get a questionably sympathetic movie villain who makes odd decisions, we get one of the finer horror movie villains yet, almost like Michael Fassbender's David from the previous movie we reviewed, Alien: Covenant. His gravely voice, which sharply makes Nordstrom a menacing presence, is just as effective as his "radar sense" that is almost on-par with that of Marvel's Daredevil's own. Who knows? He might actually be Daredevil had he turned to the dark side.

At the center of the chaos is Jane Levy's aptly named final girl (obvious spoiler alert) Rocky, who is longing for an escape from her "rocky" relationship with her often uncaring family. Being the main protagonist of this adventure, Jane Levy's character gets the most development, and she is able to convey the emotion of absolute fear in the face of animosity in a rather reasonable manner. Sure, she screams in a few scenes, but not too much, like most others do in these types of movies.

I would say that the best moments that showed her acting prowess is by the near-end of the movie. Finally escaping the horrors of Nordstrom's home, but not his menacing hell hound, Rocky is trapped in Money's car. With nothing but her wits and will to get herself and her sister, Diddy, played by Emma Bercovici, far and away from their awful family, Rocky manages to outsmart Nordstrom's dog, and effectively becomes and above average, quick thinking female protagonist! Her very brief moment with her sister, before all hell broke loose, is also heartwarming. Jane Levy, overall, did wonderfully as the central character, and this is surely one of her great additions to her blossoming career!

Dylan Minnette is back again, and is still taking the role of a somewhat brave, yet timid, hopeless romantic. This time, he is attracted to Rocky, as he provides her details on potential houses to burgle, thanks to his father's work as a private security agency head. His acting is also definitely great, and I do admire his character for being again the reluctant hero of the main protagonist, even if he does die at the end of it all. I honestly could not believe that his character, Alex, cheated death once, only for him to end up biting the dust. While he did not get the spotlight in Don't Breathe, not as much as he did in Thirteen Reasons Why, where he gets a leading role, 

Also, Daniel Zovatto's Money? Yeah, he was just ... well ... kind of there. His character did not do much, except for being a walking spoiler, but Zovatto actually does a neat job at being that annoying and thuggish foil to Alex's innocent and calm persona. It is weird seeing him reunite with Minnette in this project, now that I realized that they were best friends in one episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

But anyway, we all know that none of us watched Don't Breathe for a Shakespearean level of artistry, nor for beautifully crafted story with fleshed-out characters. We are here for the endless thrills and terrors that await one when coming across a potentially haunted corridor, and fortunately for us, Don't Breathe has a lot to offer. Director Fede Álvarez, who headed the Evil Dead Remake, which was bloody good, as said by other moviegoers, plus some awesome scores by Roque Baños, make a compelling case for a magnificent horror movie director, as his work here is definitely one for the books.

Normally, in movies, the sense of dread originates from the audience members' attachment to the main characters, or just basic jump scares. The more the viewer can relate to any of the characters, the more the chances are that they are to root for the fictional personas' survival. What I am trying to say is that, normally, we "sympathize" with certain characters because we find them appealing or relatable, which makes us wish that they avoid obvious fates worse than death itself. Here, the movie, as we said, is not really more about the characters, even if their four main characters have interesting backstories, but is more about the "realistic" experience. The movie plays with the imagination of the audience. Sure, none of the characters have memorable stories about them, but the idea that a blind man can kill you, even without his sense of sight, is ridiculous, but is made spine-tingling by the execution. Why are we on the edge of our seats when Nordstorm chased Rocky and Alex with a handgun and a dog? Because we can imagine the possibility of it actually happening, and that is something that makes this movie pretty darn unique in contrast to most modern offerings. There is nothing supernatural at work, but rather, something realistically twisted that is in the film's atmosphere.

I believe there are two great scenes that feature this. The first is Rocky and Alex's escape through a darkness-filled basement. Blinded by Nordstrom turning-off the lights to the area, the audience is treated through a fun and astonishingly well-polished chase. The second is the climactic escape from the house, and Rocky's encounter with Nordstrom's ravenous dog. I might say that I was already pumped-up from my experience from the previous scene, but I can actually just imagine the idea of having a dog chase me, while being trapped in a car. Well done Fede Álvarez. Well done.

We did say that the screenplay did not do much with its other central characters, but heck, they did a fascinating job on Norman Nordstrom. At first, I thought he was just your basic soldier with homicidal tendencies, who just happened to kidnap and torture the female named Cindy Roberts, played by Franciska Törőcsik, his daughter's accidental killer, for revenge. But once we get to the climax, we realize that Nordstrom is really on a whole new level of messed-up. Again, the movie displays its knack for playing with realism here, and now that I mentioned, this one particular scene has nothing compared to the other two before.

In the movie, Nordstrom held Cindy Roberts captive after her charges for Nordstrom's daughter's death settled. Instead of killing her, like a rationally irrational distraught grieving father would do, he proceeds to artificially inseminate her, in the hopes that she could give birth to a daughter, who can take Nordstrom's original daughter's place. Yeah, you read that right, and it is one example of reality being more terrifying than fantasy. This just goes to show on how devious or delusional the human mind can become in the face of grief and tragedy. This also just goes to show that humans have the tendency to lose all sense of reason. Because of just how realistic his motives are (well, from a psychopath's perspective, at least), and how unexpected they are, especially his modus operandi, Don't Breathe cements itself as one masterfully made horror movie.

This all comes into play when Alex, after being thrown-out of the house, then back again, is rendered incapacitated, and Nordstrom, after accidentally killing Cindy Roberts with a single bullet, proceeds to place his ... ahem ... "D.N.A." in Rocky, because apparently to this guy, there is a fine line between rape and forced artificial insemination. Look Nordstrom, I know you lost your daughter and all that, and I know that three-hundred thousand dollars in cash will never suffice, but seriously, could you not have just adopted someone and move on? But about the scene, and after that, wherein Rocky force feeds him his own semen (Yuck!), is just disturbing. You were wondering why this movie has an R Rating? Well, now you know why.

Overall, this slightly cliched, but nevertheless effective and awesome simple thriller is smartly executed, thanks to a great performance from Stephen Lang and others, as well as some really, really, dark imagination from the writers.

For real, what the heck did we just watch? And here is to hoping that a perfectly great sequel is coming to terrify us once more. With that said and done, we come to the end of our movie review on Don't Breathe. While Halloween is coming to a close, I have a feeling I would still be reviewing a few more horror movies, starting with the equally scary, although relatively short, Lights Out! God, please, can we have much more of these awesome horror movies, and less of the other boring, gross-out stuff like all of the recent Paranormal Activity movies? How about you? What other above average scary movies have you watched recently? Let us know! And since Jigsaw is out, here is the trailer! Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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