Tuesday, November 1, 2016

When Robbing the Blind is the Least of Your Problems, or Thoughts on Don’t Breathe

Clever, atmospheric and harrowing, Don’t Breathe (2016) is an original, R-rated horror movie with a morally ambiguous and provocative premise that challenges audiences while remaining entertaining and thrilling.  When three 20-somethings break into a blind man’s house to steal his life savings and he turns out to be a paranoid veteran who fights back, the audience will be automatically and reflexively on the side of the old man.  Defending your house is an easy cause that everyone can get behind, and your primary reaction will be that these people have no business being there and deserve whatever they get. 
The genius of writer and director Fede Alvarez from the Evil Dead (2013) remake is Don’t Breathe starts with that preconceived audience expectation and turns it upside down; the blind man’s a psycho keeping a woman in the basement, and the kids aren’t, for the most part, all that bad.  The movie becomes a cat and mouse thriller, equal parts Panic Room (2002) and Halloween (1978) with a dash of Hush (2016), it’s a reverse Wait Until Dark (1967) where a home invasion becomes a fight to the death but without clearly defined heroes and villains.  Instead, Don’t Breathe presents a post-Walking Dead world where morality comes in shades of grey, and the only goal is survival.
Like It Follows (2014), and also reminiscent of the movie in tone and attitude, Don’t Breathe was filmed in Detroit, and the establishing scenes of urban decay reflect the nihilistic desperation of Alex, Money, and Rocky, the three unfortunate burglars.  They specialize in non-violent crimes, breaking into affluent homes protected by security systems and insurance, presumably to garner that precious audience sympathy and get them on their side.
Rocky, played by Jane Levy (Mia in that Evil Dead remake) is the most sympathetic, with a back-story of child abuse and dreams of escaping to sunny California along with her cute little sister.  She’s trapped by economics, living in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and desperate to get out.  The rumor of a $300,000 payday and one last big job is too much of a temptation to pass up, which leads her straight into the arms of the Blind Man.
The blind man with extraordinarily heightened senses, as envisioned by Zatoichi  (1962), Blind Fury (1989) and more recently, Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has always been heroic; the disability immediately puts the audience on their side.  But Stephen Lang from Avatar (2009), and Ike Clanton in Tombstone (1993), is the blind homeowner who coincidentally happens to be keeping a girl chained up in his soundproofed basement.  It’s a nice twist that creates a dynamic between bad guys and worse bad guys, but much like the kids in Chernobyl Diaries (2012) it's hard to generate any empathy for them.
Don't Breathe can be considered a millennial reaction to the world they’ve inherited, underemployed with crippling student and few options.  It’s also at its core a generational conflict between jobless 20-somethings and Baby Boomer homeowners.  But the filmmakers leave the option for a sequel at the ending because you can’t fight the Man, kids.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).