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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: DON'T BREATHE wastes its promising premise on cheap scares and a troubling twist

This review may contain info that constitutes spoilers.

Don't Breathe sounds like a breath of fresh air. The premise: three serial burglars get in over their head by targeting a blind Iraqi War vet, posits a film that could play with its audience's expectations, portraying moral ambiguity and creating a sense of push and pull with where your own loyalties might lie.
Are these young crooks earning our scorn trying to get one over on an old blind man? Is he a shell shocked soldier turned ruthless and taking his methods too far?
That's a movie I'd greatly enjoy seeing. Unfortunately, Fede Alvarez and company squander that potential by tossing aside any and all tones of grey by indeed casting the unwilling victim as cartoonish villain. And as the film rolls on, it just gets worse and worse until a female protagonist is in what has to be the most problematic scene I've witnessed this year in cinema.
Fede Alvarez, who trampled all over the Evil Dead franchise with his listless remake, turns in a slightly more coherent effort here, and provides solid, if intermittent, jump scares (even if the moments that set them up lack logic at times). But a dreadful script just topples any good will that it threatens to build; from laughably "symbolic" moments with a ladybug, to a kidnapping victim who has her own newspaper clipping on hand to explain away who she is, I was stunned by the stupidity on display. 
And performances? Well, the work Stephen Lang puts in here would probably make Tobin Bell cringe. And apparently his blindness gives him a heightened sense of smell? Or at least he sure acts like it does, sniffing around a room like he's Matt Murdock. Everyone else is fine, though the type of caricature one comes to expect in this type of business.
There's some good visual work done, particularly a scene that frames up a chase in a pitch black basement room. And Alvarez has a good knack for spacial geography, charting around our villain's house in a way not dissimilar from how the camera would pan around the cabin in the original Evil Dead films, focusing on every nook and cranny. I also like how he sizes up Detroit as a nightmarish looking hellscape, but after Only Lovers Left Alive and It Follows, that ground has been well covered by the genre.
I know Sam Raimi has basically given up, having abandoned any pretense of worthwhile filmmaking these days in order to cash in on the success of his past endeavors, but I wish he would find a better protege than Alvarez to groom. Once again, he produces another rote scarefest, when he continues to threaten to do something interesting. Don't breathe? More like don't bother.

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