Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe ★★★

Despite a flimsy premise and descent into narrative ridiculousness by film's end, Fede Alvarez's "Don't Breathe" is an effective horror thriller. It is gripping, chilling exercise in tension and fear that succeeds as long its audience does not look under its engaging surface.

"Don't Breathe" revolves around three young burglars who break into the house of a blind man and find themselves trapped in a struggle for survival. The homeowner, attuned to the silence of the house, presents a deadly foil for the thieves, stalking their every move in a violent game of cat and mouse.

The premise is straightforward, but its delivery is weakened by its details. The burglars sport some kind of rationale for their crimes, but they are unlikable. Stephen Lang's blind homeowner, also unlikable, creates realistically insurmountable obstacles for the young criminals. It all becomes an unwinnable battle of the lesser of two evils where an audience is left rooting for neither party; and, then, things get offputtingly weird.

This narrative flimsiness does not wreck the overall experience, and Alvarez has the directorial sense to focus on the cinematic machinery that makes the film work. That machinery is the pure, stinging tension drawn from the utter necessity of being silent. Exploiting the wide-eyed, grasping-in-the-dark hunt for safety, Alvarez assembles sequences that pop with wire-tight, ice-cold intensity. Through that intensity and the taut silence that follows as cameras attempt, like the film's chracters, to see in the dark, the production finds its footing.

"Don't Breathe" revels in skin-deep thrills, but those thrills are compelling and impactful. Though little about the film beyond those thrills survives even light scrutiny, the collective experience manages to still be one of moderate worth.

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