Review of “Don’t Breathe”

A gang of three young home burglars, Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) break into houses around Detroit protected by the security company for which Alex’s father works. Alex has access to the door keys and codes for the security systems so he can deactivate the alarms and the burglars can work at their leisure. Money takes all the stolen items to his fence Raul (Franciska Torocsik) but never gets much money for them. Money and Rocky have plans to move to California once they make enough cash. Alex intends to stay in Detroit with his dad. Raul tells Money about a house occupied by a single man whose daughter was killed when struck by a car. The family of the young woman driving the car paid a settlement of $300,000.00 to the man and it is somewhere inside his house. The trio surveils the house and sees the man (Stephen Lang), an Iraq War veteran blinded in battle, walking his big guard dog. Alex doesn’t like the idea of stealing from a blind man but eventually decides to help with the robbery. They drug the dog, putting it to sleep and break into the blind man’s home through a bathroom window as every other way in is either barred or has multiple locks. Once inside they begin searching for the blind man’s stash. Money sneaks into the blind man’s bedroom and sets off a gas that is supposed to knock him out. They can’t find the money but see a door that is bolted and padlocked. Thinking the cash is there, Money shots the lock and is about to open the door when the blind man shows up. Money threatens to shoot him, even firing a round into the ceiling, but the blind man is able to grab his gun and turn it towards Money. He asks if Money is alone and he says yes as Alex and Rocky stand motionless. The blind man then shoots Money, killing him. Rocky and Alex both wait for the blind man to leave and then scatter in different directions. The blind man is far more dangerous than anyone knew and he has secrets bigger than the cash he is willing to kill to protect.

“Don’t Breathe” is a variation on the haunted house horror movie. The home the trio of burglars invades is filled with dark secrets and a dangerous entity. The difference is this entity is alive, not supernatural in any way and has a seemingly clear purpose for its violence. It’s the kind of film “Stand Your Ground” law supporters will love…until about half way through when the real reason for the blind man’s killer instincts is revealed. Yes, there is a twist, it’s a big one and it really comes out of left field. What’s more, there’s a twist to the twist. “Don’t Breathe” is a disturbing film and it is also very good.

Stephen Lang is truly frightening as the blind man. He knows his house so well it doesn’t matter he can’t see. He knows every turn and stair step in his home, especially the basement and that comes into play during a particularly unnerving scene when the blind man turns off the power and the robbers are now locked in complete darkness. Lang’s character rarely speaks but when he does his voice is weary and broken. The blind man has lived through war, the loss of his sight and the death of his daughter (we never hear about the girl’s mother) and it has clearly taken a toll on his emotional health. He can kill without remorse and has ways to cover up his deed. Much like Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series, the blind man seems to be unstoppable.

While the rest of the main cast is good, their characters are drawn rather thinly. Daniel Zovatto’s Money is a gangsta wannabe with cornrowed hair and a bullying personality that covers up his cowardly nature. Dylan Minnette’s Alex is far too smart to be breaking into homes and could have a good future but his not-so-secret love for Rocky makes him ignore his better judgement.

Jane Levy’s Rocky is about the only character that is given much backstory and a personality that exceeds a desire for material wealth. Living with her abusive and neglectful mother, her mother’s latest live-in boyfriend and her little sister Diddy (Emma Bercovici), Rocky wants a better life away from a troubled past. Her father left when she was very young and her mother abused her for expressing any sadness over his absence, claiming it was Rocky’s fault he left. Now a young woman, Rocky has plans for her and Diddy, along with Money and Alex, to go to California for a new start. The chance for one last robbery and a massive payday to get away from Detroit and her past leads Rocky to take chances far beyond what she would normally leading inevitably to her encounter with the blind man. Their clash is like the unstoppable force encountering an immovable object.

“Don’t Breathe” is set primarily inside the blind man’s house and one particular sequence stuck with me. At one point, Alex, Rocky and the blind man are in the basement when the blind man throws the breaker and kills all the lights. Filmed with what looks like low-light cameras (but is probably some kind of digital filter), the audience sees only a smoky grey image of the sighted characters groping in the dark, their eyes wide trying to allow in any stray light while the blind man walks confidently around using various memorized landmarks, touching ceiling beams and feeling for the corners of shelves. As the camera moves away from a character, they blend into the grey background and quickly disappear. Rocky and Alex walk unaware towards the blind man and their possible death even as the audience sees the approaching danger. It’s a brief scene but one that caused the most tension within me.

The movie ignores some basic truths of walking around in an old house; namely, the floor creaks and door hinges squeak. Characters walk around the home in utter silence even through the floor creaks in other scenes when it is needed for the building of tension or starting an action scene. Nothing is louder at night than a loose floorboard in an old house. I live in an old house and I feel like I hear every pop, squeak and creak as the house cools from a hot day or my dog is walking around. I realize “Don’t Breathe” would only be about 30 minutes long if the footsteps of the intruders made as much noise as they should have but this still stuck out to me.

“Don’t Breathe” is rated R for language, disturbing content, sexual references, terror and violence. There are several bloody shootings, beatings and attempts to strangle in the course of the film. The sexual references are crude but brief. A scene late in the film that I can’t describe without ruining a major plot point is particularly disturbing and ends in a very gross way. Foul language is frequent in the first 30 minutes of the movie but there isn’t much dialog after that.

“Don’t Breathe” is appropriately named as there are times when the audience will be holding its collective breath waiting on what will happen next. Without the need for ghosts or demons, filmmaker Fede Alvarez has turned a typical home on a typical street into a house of horrors. The movie is minimalist scary fun with no obvious digital effects (although there are 3D artists in the credits) and an average man as just about the scariest monster in recent memory. Take some friends and enjoy their collective gasps as the story plays out. Just don’t talk to the screen through the whole movie like a woman in the showing I went to because that can get annoying very quickly.

“Don’t Breathe” gets five stars.

There’s only one new wide release movie out this week so I’ll be broadening out my options to include some recently released art house films. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Don’t Think Twice—

Hell or High Water—

The Light Between Oceans—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “It Follows”

It seems like the things we enjoy the most are only in our lives to kill us. If you’ve watched my video reviews, you know I’m very overweight. I enjoy foods that are for the most part not the healthiest. Many people enjoy driving way above the speed limit on the interstate or they may partake in some extreme sport like BASE jumping or performing acrobatic tricks on a skateboard. As I was entering college, the threat of AIDS exploded into the headlines. Despite its early saturation in the gay and IV drug abusing community, it was also creeping in to the heterosexual population as well. Even having sex seemed like it was too dangerous an activity. Over the decades, things have changed on that front with an emphasis on prevention and improvement in drugs to suppress HIV. In the film “It Follows,” sex is how a person becomes infected with a demon that stalks them wherever they go. It may be frightening to think about how we are all being followed by death no matter where we are; but the movie only provides minimal scares.

Jay (Maika Monroe) lives at home with her mom and her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe). Her friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi) are frequent guests. Jay has briefly been dating Hugh (Jake Weary) and they seem to be hitting it off. One night at the movies, Jay teaches Hugh a guessing game requiring one person to randomly select a person in the crowd and the other to try and guess which one was picked. When Hugh tries guessing which person Jay picked he seems to be seeing someone who isn’t there. Panicking, Hugh tells Jay he would like to leave as he’s feeling sick. On their next date, Jay and Hugh have sex in his car near an abandoned building. Afterwards, Hugh renders Jay unconscious with a chloroform-soaked rag. Jay wakes up in the parking garage of the abandoned building in a wheelchair, her arms and legs bound. Hugh tells Jay he has infected her with a curse. He got it from having sex with someone and she can pass it on to the next person she sleeps with. The curse is an entity that can take the form of a person who may or may not be familiar. It is constantly walking towards you but can only move at a walking pace. If it catches you, it will kill you. Both Jay and Hugh see a naked woman walking towards them but they are able to drive off and escape it. Hugh drops Jay at her home and quickly drives off. The police investigate and discover Hugh was lying about where he lives and his real name. Jay tells Paul, Yara and Kelly about the curse but they are reluctant to believe her. Paul and Yara offer to spend the night with Jay to protect her. A window is broken by a rock in the middle of the night. Paul doesn’t see anything but Jay sees a woman walking towards her. Locking herself in her room, Jay opens the door for Yara and Paul, but a very tall man with gouged out eyes also enters the room. Jay runs out of the house, gets on a bike and rides to a local park. Her escape is seen by her neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto). Kelly, Paul and Yara quickly find Jay in the park and Greg soon catches up, offering to drive the group around and try to figure out what to do next. Going to the house where Hugh was supposed to be living, the group breaks in and finds all the windows covered in newspaper with cans and bottle hanging on the inside of the glass to act as a low-tech early warning system. Paul finds a picture of Hugh wearing a letter jacket from a local high school. At the school, they discover Hugh’s real name is Jeff and they find out where he lives. They visit Jeff hoping to learn of a way to get rid of the curse that’s following Jay.

“It Follows” is in my opinion and homage to 1980’s slasher flicks. It has the same lo-fi look and feel of “Halloween” or the early “Friday the 13th” films. It has a cast of mostly attractive but otherwise unremarkable unknown actors and looks like it was shot on an old camera borrowed from a friend who wanted it back as quickly as possible or their mom and dad would be angry. It also has a soundtrack that was created on synthesizer that warns you well in advance that something is about to happen…or not. “It Follows” has all the qualities of a great drive-in movie from 30 or 40 years ago. Sadly, I saw it in a theatre in the 21st century and despite all of its retro charm, it lacks having enough scares to overcome its cheap look and sound.

One has to credit lead actress Maika Monroe for her performance. She is able to infuse Jay with the right amount of vulnerability mixed with determination to make the character more than a screaming and crying victim of circumstances. Monroe has all-American good looks but also looks like an average young woman that you would see at your school or work. Monroe takes a part that could have been just another scream queen role and turns it into something that actually wrings the emotion and empathy from the audience. You feel bad for Jay and the situation in which she find herself. That doesn’t come from the script but from the actress. Monroe deserves to be in better movies and not just better horror flicks. The rest of the cast is passable at best with a slightly more favorable opinion of Keir Gilchrist as Paul. His nebbish look and quietly longing expressions make his the second most sympathetic character behind Jay. While not a particularly great performance in “It Follow,” Gilchrist has done good work in the past. He was amazing in the woefully under seen “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” with Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts. Here, he’s not asked to do much other than look hurt, annoyed or with longing at Jay.

There are some aspects of how the movie was shot that played on my nerves. Writer and director David Robert Mitchell employs a 360 degree panning shot on a couple of occasions that at times made me feel a bit queasy. I understand the reasoning behind these shots: It allows the camera to see Jay then a person walking in her direction from a distance then back to Jay then the person closer than before giving us the clear idea that this is the entity. I suppose it’s better than having five or six edits to give us the same information but using more than once became a bit taxing.

The soundtrack to the film is also an issue. The synthesizer score sounds extremely dated. Part of my comparing the film to “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” comes from how the “It Follows” music would have fit perfectly into those movies. The score is also overbearing, pressing down on the audience like a lead weight. It is often distracting and demands more attention than the events on screen. The film also uses building sound to imply or warn of a coming event. Sometimes it sounds like a low rumble building to nearly deafening volume. Sometimes it’s a hiss. No matter what the sound used is, it is used like a neon sign telling the audience to pay attention and prepare for mayhem. Sadly, the film lacks enough mayhem to make the soundtrack worth the distractions it causes.

Finally, when you get down to brass tacks, the film simply doesn’t deliver enough scares. There are a few moments when you might jump but they are few and far between. The premise of a demon passed from person to person via sexual contact is a unique one and could have been a mind-blowingly scary movie. Unfortunately, the film works harder on building tension than paying it off. It’s a movie that is mostly atmosphere with little solid ground.

“It Follows” is rated R for graphic nudity, disturbing violent content, disturbing sexual content and language. While there are a total of three sex scenes in the film, none shows as much nudity as the entity in its various forms. There are at least three or four fully nude or partially nude women and at least one nude man. An early scene in the film shows a young woman dead on the beach with her leg broken at the knee and her foot pointing at her chest. There are a couple of bloody gunshot wounds to the head. There is also a scene where the entity is having sex with one of the infected it captures. It’s brief but weird. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“It Follows” caused quite a stir when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was quickly snapped up for distribution by a subsidiary of the Weinstein Company. It has received a great deal of critical acclaim and has already made nearly seven times its budget in only a month. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to see the subtle aspects of the film but I just didn’t find it to be that great. It’s an okay low-budget horror flick and not much more.

“It Follows” gets three stars out of five.

As the countdown to “Avengers: Age of Ultron” continues, there are four new movies coming out this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Child 44—

Monkey Kingdom—

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2—

Unfriended—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send your emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.