stephen-lang-as-the-blind-man-in-dont-breathe

Courtesy of Screen Gems

September 15, 2016

Don’t Breathe and Buy a Rottweiler

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Just an hour and a half long, Don’t Breathe, directed by Fede Alvarez, is a film you’re not soon going to forget. It’s a suspense movie about three thieves — Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) — who decide to rob a seemingly helpless war veteran: Blind Man (Stephen Lang). Imagine if Kevin from Home Alone was grown up and psychotic and you’re on the right track.

The film opens up in an aerial shot of the Blind Man dragging a woman down a street, setting the uncomfortable mood that dissociates the setting from the rest of the world. You’ll know if you’re in the right theatre within the first few seconds. The movie then moves to exposition on the main characters’ personalities. Rocky is a likeable character, but I can’t say her acting towards the beginning of the film is the best. Money — a stereotypical and unlikable jerk — is the only character I couldn’t stand. Money’s relationship with Rocky is his only redeeming quality, but I still found myself waiting for his death, which was obviously alluded to in the trailer.

Even without seeing the trailer, the viewer would be oblivious if they did not pick up on the horror movie tropes that foretell his death. Money is also stupid, threatening the Blind Man with a gun instead of playing innocent. Alex is the most relatable character out of the group since he is more sensible and the only member averse to stealing money from the Blind Man. Alex initially seems out of place alongside the very devious Rocky and Alex, but he grows in his ruthlessness by the end of the film. Alex fills the handyman role of the group, disabling arms and procuring keys (his father works for a home security company) and spewing legal technicalities.

The opening scenes that largely establish the character development and setting drag on for far too long, but do provide interesting backstories. For example, Rocky talks about her parents often locking her in a trunk. The story often returns as an analogy when Rocky describes wanting to be as free as a butterfly that once flew into the trunk. The filmmakers also waste time on Alex’s conflicted thoughts on whether to join the plan or not (his decision already evident from the trailer). Before the thieves enter the house, most of the (in)action serves as suspense-less filler.

The Blind Man lives in a ghost town for some reason (I guess they have the best town hall meetings), but I feel like our current government wouldn’t allow this. Correct me if I’m wrong. When the thieves break into the house, they are introduced to easily the best character in the entire film: the Rottweiler. That thing is a freaking monster! There is no stopping it! Oh my Dog! It breaks through glass, a car, a door and gets through an air vent with no trouble. Every time the dog was released, it triggered a visceral, “Oh sh#t!!” The only downside, other than realism, is that the close-ups of the dog reveal that it’s not very vicious. It just looks like it’s having fun, but I’m have fun along with it. It’s not like dogs are actors anyway.

The cinematography is pleasing as well. For example, when reading text messages, the part of the message that isn’t read is blurred. In scenes such as when the thieves are searching the house, the shots are impressively long with few cuts. I also like the night vision when the characters walk through the dark basement, and it becomes an omniscient view, allowing the viewers to see what the characters cannot. The dolly zoom was also utilized to make characters feel further away than they truly were, mimicking one of Hitchcock’s techniques.

Narratively, the film distinguishes itself by having no true villain. The Blind Man antagonized the main characters, but he’s just trying to protect his house. Furthermore, the writers establish that the main characters only steal because they are difficult situations that cause them to take risks to survive. Furthermore, the writers overuse the Blind Man’s status as a war veteran to explain his seeming invincibility. At one point, he breaks out a set of chains to go grab a gun. Still, the writers make sure to humanize him with a subplot about his daughter. It is interesting how Lang portrays the man and conveys his emotions with very few lines. The real monster of the story is that freaking Rottweiler.

I’m going to talk about the very end right now, so if you don’t want me to SPOIL the very end, skip to the next paragraph. Rocky leaves the money, completing her character arc (although I would have preferred an ambiguous ending that lets the audience consider her morals). On the way to California with her sister, she sees that the Blind Man survived, causing news reporters to believe that the man was attacked and fended off the defenders and covering up the true story. The writers seem to be commenting on the public’s willingness to believe a war vet over a thief, noting that neither side is really “right,” but the side that wins is the one with media attention and public backing. And, sometimes the truth stays hidden because of to whom we listen.

A horror film audience is usually really fun, and this group was no exception. There was this guy that kept yelling out things like, “Hit him!” and “Get outta there!” For some reason, someone was laughing when the Blind Man was hitting Rocky or Alex and when the subject of genetics was brought up, if you know what I mean. And, of course, when the Rottweiler came on, we all went, “Oh sh*t!”

Some last things that go against Don’t Breathe were its soundtrack and conspicuously cinematic feel. The soundtrack wasn’t bad, but it would have been more suspenseful if there were no score at all, just ambient noise. The still shots and cinematic editing, too, could have added to the suspense if the camera was less still and slightly less professionally shot. Now, I’m going to go buy myself a Rottweiler.

Trip Hastings is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at gh357@cornell.edu. 

2 thoughts on “Don’t Breathe and Buy a Rottweiler

  1. def great thriller film with some “oh s**t” moments…actually, it was a ladybug that flew in the trunk and kept Rocky company, because her mom would lock her inside for hours when she kept crying because her father left them…also, this blind Army vet probably seems part-Terminator, considering how many times he has been bludgeoned and then shot via his own pistol and then ends up SURVIVING in the end…Alex’s death seemed unwarranted, considering his conscientiousness, and since he has a crush on Rocky, who knows why he kinda wavered between wanting to stay in Detroit and wanting to go to CA with her

    • Yeah, it was a ladybug. And, it was originally written that way. Lost in translation I’m afraid. Not much to do about that now. I was just surprised he could die. I mean, Alex was surviving quite a bit, including getting knocked out the window by the Rottweiler. By the end, I was wondering if they were all supers, but there’s some suspension of disbelief in these films. Yeah, and Rocky being a female symbol for both Money and Alex is quite unneeded. You’d think he would do more to be with her if that was a necessary subplot.

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