Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez burst onto the horror scene in 2013 with a blood-soaked reimagining of Sam Raimi’s seminal 1981 classic, The Evil Dead.
It’s clear that Alvarez has now found his place as a horror filmmaker with a unique but inspired vision, almost inheriting the prominence of early Raimi himself – but there is certainly a long way to go.
Don’t Breathe is, first and foremost, one of the more unique twists on the horror genre of recent memory. It comes at a time when the face of horror is changing; independent films like It Follows (2014) have introduced a new breed of horror, and Alvarez’s latest looks to the future whilst respecting the traditions of old.
It tells the tale of three thieves who, desperate for the money to begin a new life, target the house of a blind war veteran, wherein lies a vast sum of cash.
The focus of the film is not on the protagonists, but on its already iconic antagonist. It presents a challenge to itself, and that is to create a horror film where the protagonists are, at a glance, at a far greater advantage than their adversary.
Of course, there is far more to it than meets the eye. The veteran is, in reality, still more than proficient in combat and as ruthless as horror villains come.
There are scenes of genuine, pulse-pounding tension, mixed with a gnawing, claustrophobic dread that leaves the audience breathless.
Where Don’t Breathe works best is its atmosphere. A cracking use of sound, or lack thereof, pushes the film from a simple home-invasion-gone-wrong thriller into something far more intense and cold-blooded.
It is almost tragic that as the film hurtles along, Alvarez seemingly sacrifices atmosphere in favour of the now boring and stale tradition of almost deafeningly loud jump-scares. A misstep that is more disappointing than anything else.
Alvarez’s attempts to elevate the film into something far more extreme are where it most notably begins to come apart at the seams.
The villainisation of the blind veteran, propelling him from a sympathetic, if not a little violent victim into something far more pernicious and nasty is revolting and gruesome, but in all the wrong ways. He is a man driven by an eye-rolling sense of nihilistic justice that is frustratingly out of place.
The film loses sight of itself. Its last-ditch effort to gross out the audience feels lazy and contrived, and it stings just that bit more when one remembers the strength of its premise going in.
But, with all this in mind, Don’t Breathe will most likely prove to be an enjoyable outing for many horror and non-horror fans alike.
As a director, Alvarez has shown a lot of promise. With Don’t Breathe, he has demonstrated a crucial understanding of the horror genre, even if his execution is not always sound. He has created a unique thriller that is more than just passable, even if it may leave something to be desired.