Don’t Breathe ends on a sequel hook so blatant that I immediately started trying to figure out the title; Don’t Breathe Again? Don’t Breathe Either? I ran out of ideas. I’d been kind of hoping that Don’t Breathe would be this year’s The Guest, but I hadn’t expected that same “No-one could have survived that, oh wait, he totally did.” ending.
Thing is, the movie earned the ending. It shouldn’t have worked, and in the early going I wasn’t even sure if it was going to work, but it built up the tension for just long enough before turning into an absolute rocket. How many different ways can you pit a blind guy against three dumb teenage burglars before you’ve run out of scares? A lot more than I’d expected, especially when you throw in the blind guy’s dog.
The slow buildup pays off, because by the time things get tricky, we’re starting to care about the characters; sure, they’re not nice people, but they’ve got messy lives and it’s not like they deserve to die horribly for the odd break-in, even if robbing a blind guy of his life savings is not anyone’s idea of a decent thing to do. I mean, it’s not like Kevin actually KILLED the Wet Bandits. So when the going gets tough, it feels like serious business; as John commented later, it was that rare movie where bad things were happening and the audience wasn’t laughing, not even nervously. It was way too tense for that. Though I have to admit that when Chekhov’s hound bounded into a crawlspace after the final girl, making a bad situation almost ridiculously worse, I did let out a nervous chuckle.
What’s just as impressive as the tension is the economy of effort. The cast is tiny, with only four real speaking parts and a quick bounce into Rocky’s horrible home life to show us just why she wants to rob a blind guy and start a new life with her kid sister. Although it’s set in Detroit, all the interiors were done in a studio in Hungary, which can now consider using “Budapest, just like Detroit” as a slogan to discourage tourism. All in all, it might have made back the budget in the first week, so the second week could finance the sequel if they go for it.
What’s almost depressing is that this isn’t a great movie - it’s not one I’d want to see again, if I’m honest - but at the same time it’s a much better movie in all ways than Mechanic: Resurrection or Suicide Squad to pick two movies that cost 4 times as much and 17 times as much to make and managed to disappoint my cheery expectations to about the same extent that Don’t Breathe beat my initial misgivings. The characters were interesting, the action worked, and it hit an almost perfect pace once the action really got going; the pressure doesn’t let up for a moment. And the stunts are simple without being dumb or repetitive; even while everyone’s stuck in one dingy house, the director kept finding new angles on how it could be a death trap.
With all that, the film it reminded me of most was 10 Cloverfield Lane, another claustrophobic nightmare with a plucky girl stuck in a house and way more out of her depth than she realises.