By Melissa Antoinette Garza
I remember seeing the trailer for DON’T BREATHE (2016) in the theater with my husband. Steve and I couldn’t stop laughing. With the gruff voice of the blind villain grumbling “Now, you’ll see what I see!” was beyond too much.
The film received moderately positive reviews, but I had zero interest in seeing it. Even reading from those who loved the movie, I found their accounts describing an empty and ridiculous plot with unlikable characters.
Yesterday, I went over my brother Geno’s as I usually do. Geno, Steve and I watch horror movies roughly 5 nights a week. We love horror! When I got there, Geno had a copy of DON’T BREATHE ready to go. I decided, ‘what the hell’ and was ready to give it a go. After all, when you go in with zero expectations, you typically aren’t disappointed, and if it sucked, the three of us would endure it together.
The plot follows three thieves, Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette). They break into a blind veteran’s (Stephen Lang) house because they hear he has a fortune. Rocky is supposed to be sympathetic because she is trying to make a better life and has crackhead parents. She’s not. She’s a horrible person. These three scumbags are robbing a blind vet! I already want these people dead. Hell, I want Money dead, just for calling himself that.
Well, the blind man (who has no name so we’ll be referring to him as BM going forward) isn’t helpless and is ready to kill the intruders. He’s also a complete nut-job. TWIST – Oh no, wait we knew that from the trailer. The real twis tis that he has a girl locked in a dungeon downstairs. The girl was kidnapped because she drove drunk and killed BM’s pregnant daughter. Not sure, why the cops didn’t check his house when she went missing, but the police in this film are inept multiple times – so whatever. BM wants to have the grandchild he lost when his daughter was killed so he inseminates his captive with his semen. The filmmakers were too scared to make him actually rape the girl so I guess they thought this was less extreme or less misogynistic maybe, either way they were wrong. They did go all out and had no qualms about showing pubic hair in his semen sample and making him take a mouthful of it when Rocky stuffs a syringe in his mouth.
The filmmakers don’t grasp the difference between being gross and making an audience scared. It’s a disgrace to the genre and to the sub-genre of home invasion horror. A perfect example is when the hostage gets killed in a scuffle and BM takes Rocky in her place. We get so many close-ups of his semen. That’s not scary! It isn’t edgy! So, why is it there? I’m guessing the powers-that-be would claim Rocky almost being raped with a syringe is terrifying, but it isn’t. LAW & ORDER and LAW & ORDER SVU tackled the topic multiple times. The difference was they’re dramas, they’re well-written, and simply put they were good.
I sincerely hate everything about this movie. They try to make everything dark and bleak and green to build atmosphere, yet it’s all superficial, intentional and obvious. One need only to look in the direction of Dario Argento, the king of visual storytelling, to see the difference. Argento uses imagery to convey emotion to the viewer, DON’T BREATHE’s director Fede Alvarez just uses it because he’s seen it in other movies. Simply put, Argento knows what he is doing and Alvarez just tries to mimic what he sees.. He randomly picks a dark color and says, “that’d look cool.”
Nothing illustrates my point more than the masterpiece SUSPIRIA (1977). Suzy, brilliantly portrayed by Jessica Harper, appeared very innocent and the audience sympathized with her immediately. The colors, atmosphere and setting were such a contrast to who the protagonist was that it heightened the fear in the viewer. It was as if we were descending into this unknown hell with Suzy, experiencing every moment with her.
Now, I don’t expect everyone to be like Argento. The man is a genius! I do however expect someone to put a film together in a different manner than a child does with Colorforms. I know it’s an 80s reference, look them up. I The basic point is Alvarez just threw a bunch of things at the camera, but none of them had any sort of rhyme or reason. It was a pointless film. I don’t mind people adopting something they’ve witnessed in other films and make it their own, pay homage to or utilize it if it works in their film. That’s not what we have here though. Alvarez just takes different aspects of movies that have no connection and puts them together to make DON’T BREATHE. It’s not even stealing. It’s like shopping at a grocery store, bringing the food home, putting the Cheerios in the fridge, the milk in the cabinet, the chicken in the bathroom, and then claim that your house is a grocery store. Nothing is in the right place, nothing fits, and you sure as hell don’t have enough stuff to qualify yourself a grocery store, or in DON’T BREATHE’s case, a movie.
Some may say that SUSPIRIA is an unfair comparison because the plot is far different than DON’T BREATHE. There are plenty of films that have a similar premise yet told the story in a far superior way. Forgetting about the visuals and just looking at the formula of the movie, one could point to HOUSE OF THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980), WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) or VACANCY (2007) to see how important character depth and the build of suspense is to a movie. Hell even, YOU’RE NEXT (2011) that I gave a 3.5/10 understood the basic intent of a horror movie. Still, the best example to look at would be a virtually unknown, low-budget production called VENUS FLYTRAP (1987). To read my review on that film click here: http://www.scaredstiffreviews.com/venus-flytrap-1987-%E2%80%93-low-budget-horror-movie-review/
Without going into too much detail, VENUS FLYTRAP follows three thugs who crash a party held by a few yuppies. Unbeknownst to the thugs, the yuppies are just as crazy – if not more. Everyone in the film is essentially a villain, but they unlike DON’T BREATHE, created a suspenseful atmosphere where the tension continued to build throughout.
I wish I could say that DON’T BREATHE was of the so-bad-it’s-good variety. It’s not. The acting is horrible, but with the little dialogue they had I can’t blame the actors. The moments, that some claim, were shocking, were lame and deliberately added to give the viewers something to remember and talk about. Maybe, the focus on raping via insemination is scandalous to those who have never seen any other horror film ever, but for the rest of us, it’s just stupid. It’s not even a twist. It’s an expected go-to. If You want to be horrified by the brutality of mankind, check out STRAW DOGS (1971), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), EXTREMITIES (1986) or the Wes Craven classic LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). I know many activist groups are against using any form of rape as a catalyst or subject within the genre of horror and/or suspense. I’m not ones of those. If the gravity of the act is shown, I’m fine with it being shown for artistic purposes. DON’T BREATHE opted to use it as a gross out gimmick and it failed in doing even that.
At the very end, Rocky gets away after thinking she’s killed BM. The on a TV in a diner, she sees he’s still alive and being taken away in an ambulance. They mention the break-in and him being a blind vet. However, as my husband pointed out, during the investigation the police must’ve not cared about the sex dungeon in the basement! Seriously, that’s how lazy this screenwriting is.
I can’t stress this enough. Don’t watch DON’T BREATHE! It’s trash. It’s not even 70s gritty trash. It’s a wannabe film with zero substance. There are so many other films mentioned in this review that are far better in every way. I’ve heard Alvarez mention that a sequel is in the works and I’m sure it will emerge, but I hope it fails. With the help of films like THE CONJURING (2013), OCULUS (2013) and SIREN (2016), great horror films are coming back in a big way! For years, the mainstream only vomited up torture porn like the SAW sequels and gross out movies like Michael Bay’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) remake. I don’t want to return to that dismal time when every large budget horror film sucked.
DON’T BREATHE is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen! Shame on those who signed off on this. I put more effort into this review than Alvarez did the whole film. Horror fans deserve better!
Scared Stiff Rating: 0/10
Buy VENUS FLYTRAP (1987) instead, you’ll thank me: