Don’t Breathe (2016)

(On Cable TV, March 2017) Horror is about execution, and movies like Don’t Breathe prove it. On paper, it sounds like a borderline-reprehensible dirty little home invasion thriller, with bad people (thieves) running against an even worse opponent (a not-so-disabled veteran). There’s a scene late in the movie that reads like a gratuitous shock fit to sink an entire film. But on-screen, thanks to director Fede Alvarez, the film works far better than expected: the tension runs high, the direction calls attention to itself and the pacing is uncommonly effective. There’s a very good long tracking shot as the thieves explore their target house that cleanly establishes the geography of the place, even as it stops to focus on details that will become essential later on. The contrived premise feels far less unlikely when presented on-screen, and the turkey-baster scene becomes a nasty piece of primal revulsion. Perhaps best of all is the feeling that underneath the shocks and violence, it’s not an entirely meaningless journey—the survivors earn their fate with a dash of eternal anxiety. Alvarez is a gifted director, but I can’t wait until he lets go of his lowest instincts and tackle a more ambitious film. Elsewhere in the movie Steven Lang is a force of nature, while Jane Levy eventually becomes the anchor of the film. It amounts to a small surprise of a thriller. Horror fans may want to note that in-between Don’t Breathe and Hush, there seems to be a mini-trend of well-executed disability home-invasion thrillers.

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