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Don't Breathe

(2016) ** 1/2 R
88 min. Screen Gems. Director: Fede Alvarez. Cast: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto.

/content/films/4960/1.jpgIn his book Leviathan, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes infamously described a human life, in the anarchic state of nature, as “nasty, brutish, and short.” As it happens, that’s also a pretty good description of Don’t Breathe, a high-tension thriller that crosses over into horror.
Director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayagues, and it’s entirely possible they had Hobbes in mind when they gave one of their characters the line “There is nothing a man can’t do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.” That line should give you some idea what to expect from this grindhouse flick, an ”audience movie” for that audience that loves to scream and giggle at the revolting.

Don’t Breathe takes place in our modern ghost city of Detroit, Michigan. There, a young trio of thieves knocks off homes for pricy items to fence. Alex (Dylan Minnette) holds the line at grabbing cash, fearing a major larceny charge should the team be apprehended, but his partners Rocky (Jane Levy) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) have no such qualms. They convince a reluctant Alex to go for one big score: the home of a Gulf War army veteran, where they believe he has squirreled away his $300,000 settlement for the killing of his only daughter in a reckless-driving incident. In casing the joint, the crooks note three items of interest: the neighborhood is entirely deserted save for the veteran (good news), their intended victim is blind (better news), and the home is patrolled by a vicious, foaming-at-the-mouth Rottweiler (well, you can’t win ‘em all).

Alvarez and Sayagues set the stage, then, for a latter-day Wait Until Dark: a home-invasion nailbiter with a blind victim fighting back. It’s a formula we haven’t seen for a while, and it works like gangbusters, especially since “The Blind Man” (Stephen Lang of Avatar) is sightless but hardly disabled. Alvarez masterfully sustains tension in thriller mode, partly by shooting slick Steadicam moves and showing restraint in cutting (Alvarez seems to have taken a lesson or two from David Fincher’s similarly themed Panic Room). In one especially effective, odds-evening sequence (after The Silence of the Lambs), Alvarez devises his own style of night vision (which turns the wide-eyed ingénues’ pupils and irises unnervingly big and black).

Twists abound to complicate the basic premise, and for a while, the script intriguingly pits antiheroes (the thieves) against a kind of antivillain (“The Blind Man” defending his home), with Lang’s masterfully fearsome performance upping the film’s game. Unfortunately, once Don’t Breathe detonates its big twist, subtlety goes out the window, the spell is broken, and the film’s implausibilities begin to be more distracting. It’s at this turning point that some audience members will feel the film stops being fun while others will feel the fun has started in earnest. In both cases, Alvarez holds the audience in the palm of his hand, but when he dons his horror cap, Don’t Breathe turns disgusting for those with a low tolerance for tasteless shocks.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/29/2016

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

A film that takes place largely in shadowy interiors tends to be challenging material for Blu-ray, but Sony not surprisingly makes the best of it with its Blu-ray + Digital release of horror sensation Don't Breathe. The results deliver surprising depth, despite a great deal of filtering (particularly toward the blue or sepia), and even in dark scenes, detail holds strong. Of course, the picture really pops when it's in bright daylight, especially striking in the film's last scenes after the long, dark night of the soul that is most of the picture. Contrast and color are well-calibrated to be faithful to the source material.

Great placement and subtle immersive accentuation distinguish the fine DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This is a "things that go bump in the night" kind of story, and the mix makes great use of rear channels to ratchet up tension and goose the listener. LFE gets the bass notes thumping, which is great for a film with plenty of dropped weight and footfalls and employment of doors and found household weaponry.

Bonus features include a friendly and enthusiastic commentary with Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues and Stephen Lang that will please fans no end with its production detail and amusing anecdotes.

Promotional featurettes include "No Escape" (2:56, HD) with Alvarez, cinematographer Pedro Luque, Jane Levy, and Dylan Minnette; "Man in the Dark" (3:17, HD) with Lang, Alvarez, Levy, and Daniel Zovatto; "Meet the Cast" (4:04, HD) with Alvarez, Levy, Minnette, Sayagues, Lang, and Zovatto; "Creating the Creepy House" (3:51, HD) with Lang, production designer Naaman Marshall (giving a set tour), Alvarez, Zovatto, and Sayagues; and "The Sounds of Horror" (1:49, HD) with feature composer Roque Baños and Alvarez.

Eight "Deleted Scenes" (15:17, HD) come with optional director's commentary: "A Blind Man Gardening," "The Ladybug Song," "Father and Son," "Diner Dancing," "Only a Father Understands," "Alex Calls Dad," "There Is No God" and "Rocky Kisses Alex."


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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