Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Detroit, a real world representation of the failures of the American Dream. The once prominent and populous city has transformed into a desolate rotting nightmare where the inhabitants are either too poor to leave or embrace living in this former glory. Modern cinema's fascination with Detroit is unsurprising, it's an absolutely fascinating location. Whether it be Jim Jarmusch's vision in Only lovers Left Alive, contrasting the nature of the city falling apart with the descent of life of Adam and Eva or Ryan Gosling's Lost River where the city itself is transformed into this dystopian nightmare fairy tale, where the seedy underworld is at the top and the majority of the citizens are trapped with nowhere to go. I say this because Don't Breathe, the latest film by Fede Alvarez takes place entirely in Detroit which usually wouldn't mean much as there are plenty of films that use the same setting but don't necessarily require comparison. With Detroit however and Alvarez's approach to narrative, it feels vital to me to offer this. The main characters are robbers, people who snatch keys and use them to break into houses where they make money to finance their escape from this city. Alvarez focuses on the streets, the dilapidated houses as much as he focuses on the character's faces. They seem to enjoy their actions, at least some of them do. They are only profiting off of items they've stolen and therefore aren't making enough money. Then they get a tip about a blind man living in a deserted neighbourhood who has at least six figures in storage. So they decide to rob him at night, thinking that it'll be easy. Then the film descends into a nightmare as predicted and then the true horrors of the night come out in full extravagance.
The problem I have with the thematic presentation of Detroit is that Alvarez doesn't know what the fuck he's saying. At first the film seems to be almost a critique of modern American capitalism in the sense that this is the only way these people can survive, providing them an inherent likability despite their immorality of their actions. But Alvarez refrains from doing that while not immediately a bad thing, leaves a presence of a missed opportunity especially with his focus on the city itself. Over the course of the film, it seems that the location itself is only a plot device, an excuse for no one to be there. Which again, doesn't have to be a problem. It is not a requirement that every film has to have a thematic intent but it bothers me here. Because by the end of the first 25 minutes, it's clear that you are supposed to be on the side of the protagonists. Thy are the people you, the audience, should be rooting for. But the lack of sufficient character development or any sort of statement into what leads these people to consider and ultimately, carry out robbing an old blind man makes this people horribly unlikable. To me, horror more than anything is based upon character, If the characters you're showcasing are in peril, the film is far more likely to succeed if they're characters you want to survive. Take Green Room as an example, another film set in a limited location where the protagonists are in great danger at all times. Why Green Room works on a fundamental level and a reason why it builds so much tension is that the characters are people you grow to care about. So when they are placed in a scenario where any one of them can die, the tension grows. Plus Green Room creates and contains atmosphere remarkably well. Where in Don't Breathe, the characters are despicable. It makes an attempt to justify one of them (Rocky) by saying that she has a sister to look after and furthers this point by having her deliver a monologue about the abuse she received from her mother. But since this is so badly written and lazily done, it left me groaning instead of feeling an overwhelming amount of sympathy. Also this character doesn't really work at all in terms of this action being justifiable as she's consciously making the decision that her quality of life is more important than someone else's. Morally, she's a horrible person and the worst part is that I can see this character becoming sympathetic in another movie, if there was additional context. If the film actually showcased that this was the last resort and that this is how she saves her sister from a lifetime of abuse, it would be fine. These would be sympathetic antiheroes. Or even if the script was better written and Rocky's character felt less lazily constructed. At least she's given some sort of attempt, the other two aren't. The more morally conscious one, Alex is shown to be a good guy or at least he is presented as one. However, he steals keys from his father to profit off of the stolen objects while supposedly staying in Detroit to be with his father while purposefully and frequently putting his business and life in danger. His motivations behind the robberies seem to only be his attraction to Rocky and despite his initial hesitance, ultimately decides to carry out the robbery due to this. Which is a profoundly selfish action and if this character wasn't supposed to be likable this wouldn't be an issue. However for the majority of the film, the blind man is not really bad. He is defending his money and his life in his own home. For the first half, all his actions are completely justifiable making it a really strange experience when the film clearly wants you to care for these characters and be terrified of this evil character. So the majority of the horror just doesn't work in the slightest. Sure the sound is brilliant and Alvarez occasionally has moments of directorial greatness but when the basic set up is inherently flawed, there isn't much to be done. Also there is another character but his existence is be a stereotype of Latino men, create minor conflict in terms of interpersonal relationships then brutally die to establish antagonist. It is really no shock that the only non white person in this film is the first to die and the only one of the protagonists who has no development whatsoever. And the film gets worse in it's second half.
For starters, the movie devolves into utter fucking nonsense, with everything becoming a series of ridiculous and mercilessly stupid events. Where instead of focusing on the lack of tension or what the film wanted me to focus on, I started thinking “wow this movie is so fucking stupid, why did I go seen this” which wouldn't usually bother me (Unfriended a movie I love is about a haunted fucking Skype call) but where Unfriended utilises it's admittedly stupid idea conceptually to deconstruct not only the generation it was portraying but also the character's psyches. Don't Breathe just adds things that are dumb in an exceptionally lazy fashion in an attempt to boost tension. It fails. Also after seeing it, my mum commented on how the film seemed like it was sadistically objectifying Rocky and that the film itself had a constant feeling of misogyny, like the director was enjoying torturing her. Which I have to agree with, it seems to almost fetishise her suffering in contrast to Alex who while he deals with horrendous acts of pain, is never once shown in a leering fashion. I'm not calling Alvarez a misogynist, just commenting on the fact that this just felt horrible but not in the way it should feel. I mean it could have worked if this was a part of the antagonist's fetishisation but the way the film is framed and presented, this is clearly not the intent. This wouldn't really be an issue (or at least not in the same way) if either Alex's pain was fetishised in the same way showcasing the antagonist's psychotic nature and overall enjoyment he receives from sadism. Or if the antagonist enjoyed inflicting mass amounts of pain onto women only, with the men being tortured solely for necessity instead of pleasure. But Don't Breathe is too simplistic for that, so it really just feels like Alvarez has a thing for women screaming. Also the rape is so badly handled. Not only does the whole rape plot seem like an afterthought and a plot device to actually make the blind man a sufficient antagonist but it's so fucking horrible. I mean using rape as a shock value and portraying it in such a detached way with a seeming lack of empathy for one of the rape victims (her purpose is to shock Rocky and Alex, create extra conflict for a minute then die) which just feels wrong in a moral level. I get that horror by its nature is almost designed to be sadistic and display the worst traits of humanity (at least in certain types of films) but this film has no interest in exploring a damn thing. It's empty, soulless sadism that is designed to shock teenagers. That is it's purpose. This is just as soulless and just as fucking horrible as half of the major studio releases from this year and it's a real shame because there is so much potential here for greatness. It manages to fuck it all up and the more I think about it, the more I loathe it. I have genuine contempt for this film currently and as it's popularity continues to grow, I suspect that this won't change. I could go on and on about the numerous faults, the hideous ending and how endless it feels but I won't because I've given this trainwreck of a film enough of my time. It's horrible and you all love it for reasons I don't understand. One of the worst films of the entire year. Thanks for reading.

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