Asking for a little originality is not asking for much. Whether it is a new twist on an old theme, or a completely new monster, any touch of a fresh perspective is a welcome addition to contemporary horror cinema.
Home invasion films are by no means new. Classic slashers like HALLOWEEN utilized our collective fear of being terrorized in our own homes. Modern films, like THE STRANGERS and THE PURGE, take the concept of losing control over your home and then up the ante with tension and faceless assailants. These two films take the classic concept, inject a little bit of originality, and we are left with great films.
DON’T BREATHE is a home invasion film, with a twist. Three teenagers who dabble in small time home robbery learn of a possible windfall in a nearby house. A disabled veteran just won a whole load of money after losing his daughter in a car accident. The teens wonder if he is keeping the cash in his house, and decide to make a move on their hunch. Though they typically stick to small jobs, to avoid federal charges, the lure of one final score to help them leave Detroit is too appealing to pass.
Of course, nothing is as they expected when they get to the house. Though the veteran is blind and lives in an essentially abandoned neighborhood, nothing is as easy as it should be. Encountering each of the blind man’s traps is what makes this film a horror film. His house essentially becomes a deadly fun-house, with a new horror waiting around each corner.
Stephen Lang as the blind man is superb. I’ve seen him rescue a mediocre film before (Monkey’s Paw) and it was satisfying to see him get a chance to be in a much better vehicle. His laser focus and unpredictability sell the character and make his simultaneous strength and vulnerability believable.
Though the film borrows heavily from Wait Until Dark, the new take on the home invasion here is that the film encourages you to root for the intruders. The teens are shown as sympathetic and motivated by good intentions. Near the end of the film, the plot goes off in an odd direction (which I won’t spoil) which makes it clear that we are in fact being encouraged to side with these hooligans. I do appreciate the injection of fresh blood into the well-worn home invasion trope, however asking us to side with the criminals here rubs me the wrong way. These kids decided to take away a blind veteran’s money, which he was awarded after losing his daughter, and I am asked to cheer them on? Their entitlement is barely hidden behind their clichéd characters. Even with the tables inevitably turning later, I would much rather root for a good guy, or even a campy villain, than be given rationalizations for empathizing with characters who should be framed as the bad guys.
My quibbles aside, DON’T BREATHE is a very successful film. It keeps you guessing throughout the running time, and has fun playing with the audience’s expectations. The beginning of the end for our group of larcenous teens is their underestimating the bling man, and their mistake is our entertainment. DON’T BREATHE does not break the mold for home invasion, but it does have fun playing around with it.