I once read that one effective way to write a story that hooks readers is to tell a character’s journey towards a certain goal. Put an obstacle in his (or her) way and then when it seems that the character is about to get past that hurdle and reach the goal, snatch it back and present him with another problem. Repeat.
I forgot which successful author said that but, somehow, it seared my memory.
It’s one awesome tip for any writer. Or storyteller, for that matter. Or directors.
Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t Breathe” reminded me exactly of that. And that’s why it’s one of my all-time favorite films now.
“Don’ Breathe” is one of those sleeper hits that will take you completely by surprise. It has promise the first time you see its trailer but it’s not something you’re going to look forward to in the coming months the way you would for movies like “Suicide Squad” or “Star Trek.”
At first glance, you won’t mind missing it when it shows on theaters but you’re certainly going to be grateful if you do watch it. That’s because it’s so terrifyingly astonishing.
You’d wonder how a simple plot can turn out to be so spine-chilling. It’ll sear and leave you talking about it with friends. And if your friends haven’t seen it yet, you’ll talk them into watching it.
“Don’t Breathe” tells the story of three thieves who are set to pull their biggest break-in to steal $300,000 from a blind man. Seems like an easy ploy to pull off but what Rocky, Money, and Alex didn’t expect is that the retired veteran has a dark secret and to get to his money, they need to get through him and, most importantly, get out of his house.
They didn’t realize that the moment they broke in could be the last time they see the outside world because inside the house of someone who’s accustomed to darkness, the one with the heightened sense has the upper hand.
Making easy money becomes the least of their worries as the robbers fight for their lives because the blind man is not letting anyone invade his home and gets away with it. And he does everything in his power to keep the money, make the invaders pay, and, most importantly, keep his little secret from getting out.
The first time I watched “Don’t Breathe” was in a special screening more than a month ago. I had no idea what the movie was until an office mate mentioned it to me. I had no expectations and even thought that it’s the same, formulaic suspense thrillers we’ve since tolerated but boy was I in for a surprise.
The movie left me scarred. It’s that powerful.
It’s unapologetically brutal and twisted in a lot of ways. You’ll get a sense that the director and writers (Alvarez co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayagues) went for the jugular. They didn’t hold anything back and just let it all out there.
It’s one of the scariest thrillers that I’ve seen.
And it’s one I’m not going to forget that easily.
“Don’t Breathe” takes scare tactics to a different league in its writing and cinematography. It’s mortifying and haunting but it didn’t need ghosts, supernatural creatures, or serial killers. The horror is in the characters themselves and the decisions they’ve made.
It’s character-driven. And that’s why it’s eerily unpredictable. Everything that happens stems from every action our morally conflicted characters do. This leaves us with the uncertainty of what’s coming next.
I like watching suspense thrillers, especially slashers, and that’s why it has somehow made me a little immune to the surprises in plot because for many of these types of movies there’s a formula. To some degree, you know how everything’s going to end. Yes, the morbid scenes and gore will surprise you from time to time but eventually, you know that the sibling’s the killer or that the strong willed innocent girl will survive the terror.
What sets “Don’t Breathe” apart is the fact that YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT.
And that’s what I kept telling my friends who want to watch the movie.
You have no fucking idea what’s heading your way.
The twists and turns are like punches to your left. You won’t see them coming and when they do arrive, you’re left aghast.
When the plot reaches its climax, you’ll think you’re finally seeing the light of day. You feel relief because, somehow, you root for our anti-heroes. But the rug suddenly gets pulled from beneath you. I enjoyed how we think we’ve finally figured out what’s what but then things will take a sudden turn and you’re “what the fuck just happened?”
You’re now stressing about how these guys are going to come out alive.
Then you realize that they might not make it.
But then something happens and your hopes get lifted.
Then that fades and you relinquish any hope to whatever, whoever.
It’s amazing how they wrote the script and translated it to the screen. It’s like an enjoyable but terrifying roller coaster ride on rusty tracks.
And yes, the title is very apt. You won’t be able to breathe in a lot of scenes. In fact, you’ll always hold your breath especially in scenes where everything’s silent. It’s like you’re also inside the house, trying to keep as quiet as possible so as not to alert the blind man that you’re there.
Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang