Better Late Than Never: Don’t Breathe

Spoilers abound:

Don’t Breathe has an interesting premise: replace the feature creature of a horror flick with a blind war vet, make audiences wonder if he’s the villain or an innocent, disabled victim just trying to protect his home, and then immediately break that illusion, reducing the remaining two-thirds of the movie into a gory slugfest for survival.

All of that might sound less than appealing, which it doesn’t have to be—but in this case it often is. Due to his pre-existing creepy-factor, we never quite feel sorry for Stephen Lang, whose character name in the credits aptly reads: The Blind Man. Perhaps we’d feel something if he was a little more homely, or was shown struggling to move about his house. Even just dressing him in a housecoat, sunglasses and slippers would do, but instead he’s in a style of tank top more often referred to as a “wife-beater,” and likes walking his slobbering beast of a Rottweiler around the neighbourhood. Not exactly helpless. But if they had taken the time to build him up as gentle and kind, the switcheroo where he turns out to be a deranged monster would punch a lot harder.

The drive of the movie is simple, if a little far-fetched: three post-teen chums are making a living in desolate, mostly abandoned Detroit by robbing wealthy houses. The good guy of the group, Alex, played by Dylan Minnette, has a magical contraption that can incapacitate any home alarm system. He’s stolen this device from his police officer father. With it, the three rob houses and then stage each scene to look like a break-in by smashing a window on their way out, thus setting off the alarm. They never steal cash (for some reason not explained), and never over ten thousand dollars, because then the level of the crime is raised and the punishment becomes more severe—though I’m sure that if they could nail you with a few dozen of these, it’d make no difference.

The real mystifier is why Alex is even robbing houses. We’re not told what he gets out of it, or if there’s an underlying need beyond the shits and giggles. The other two, played by Jane Levy (Rocky) and Daniel Zovatto (Money), are in it to make enough money so they can escape to California with Rocky’s daughter. Why they choose California is tough to say. Better employment opportunities? The sunshine? We’re never told why, and they may not even know what awaits them on the west coast–beyond bountiful smog.

Alas, they meet their match with The Blind Man. When his daughter died in an automotive incident, The Blind Man was awarded a 300k settlement. It only makes sense to the trio of super-thieves that he’d keep all that money in his dilapidated house, rather than a bank account, so they decide to steal it. The attempt begins with a botched chloroform attack which The Blind Man easily wakes up from, before going on to make messy work of the three amigos. Here, I thought he’d be shown to be an excellent hunter—maybe channeling some fighting prowess from his time in the army. But we don’t really get that sense. Instead we see him struggle to find people right in front of his face, often firing his gun wildly at noises. The title implies that even breathing around him will have you caught, but his senses aren’t quite so keen.

What follows is a multi-pronged escape attempt that goes hilariously awry, the discovery of a woman chained-up in The Blind Man’s basement, and the last time you’ll ever want to see a turkey baster again. Just toss yours out now, you can baste your Thanksgiving bird with something else.

The whole affair ends up becoming a bloody slog where repeatedly, just when you think a character is dead, they come back to life and keep pushing. It even becomes hard to say if the audience is meant to cheer for one side or the other–I defaulted to cheering for the Rottweiler (dog lover over here).

All of that aside, what truly baffled me was the ending. Leaving for brighter pastures, Rocky sees a TV news story about how the old blind man was found severely beaten, and how he’d managed to defend himself and protect his home. Make no mistake, he’s shown as the innocent victim of a crime, recovering in hospital. Which made me wonder: What about the body of the woman (sex slave, really) left in his basement, with his baby in her belly? Or the padded suite where said slave had been living for nine months? Or even that she was the one who had killed his daughter way back when? Did Detroit’s finest miss all these connections? Perhaps they didn’t even search the scene of the crime where two people, intruders or not, were murdered. It seems like a Moby Dick-sized oversight.

So, the opinion most people often flip to without fully reading a review is the score at the end. My rating is a simple yes or no question: Did I pull out my Nintendo Switch and start playing Zelda during this movie? Yes, I did. Though I did glance up every so often, and was listening enough to catch the gist of events. Regardless, I wouldn’t even recommend putting this movie on as background noise. Too much grunting, and you may accidentally look up during the turkey baster scene.

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