This summer in film was not particularly out of the ordinary. Families flocked to see Finding Dory and Pete's Dragon for that winning balance of warmth and nostalgia. Comic book enthusiasts across the world went mad for highly anticipated blockbusters Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad.
However, one small-scale thriller managed to hold its own at the box office among Captain Kirk's smoldering baby blues and Harley Quinn's infectiously mischievous grin. Grossing nearly nine times its budget, Don't Breathe was the surprise hit of the season, giving audiences what they weren't even sure they needed. While statistics show that horror films tend to flop in the dead of summer, here's why Don't Breathe was able to garner both financial success and critical acclaim.
1. It Was A Passion Project
Writer and director Fede Alvarez is a relative newcomer to the Hollywood scene — Don't Breathe being only his second feature film after 2013's grisly Evil Dead remake — but his sharp vision and affection for the genre piqued the interest of studios. That being said, Alvarez received backlash for the excessively gory nature of his remake, which motivated the director to strive for raw intensity, subtlety and originality in his next project. And thus, Don't Breathe was born. In fact, the film's star (and arguably Alvarez's muse) Jane Levy was looking to break away from the horror genre after her taxing role in Evil Dead, but Alvarez's spirit and killer script inspired a change of heart for the actress.
2. It Blurs The Lines Between Good And Evil
Whether they delve into the realm of the supernatural or feed off the terrors of reality, horror films tend to embrace an easily identifiable moral compass. The audience is able to sympathize with the innocent and crave the demise of the film's driving malevolent force in a near-formulaic fashion.
While this battle of good versus evil is timeless, Don't Breathe manages to entirely blur the line of morality in a way that feels like an emotional thrill ride. You'll find yourself commiserating with the unnamed blind man with such conviction, only to immediately begin appreciating the efforts of the young delinquents (both parties commit terrible acts, but possess commendable objectives). This back-and-forth makes the plot all the more compelling — after all, it reflects the undeniably hazy nature of human ethics.
3. The Characters Are Likable
Oftentimes with fast-paced thrillers, the story becomes more about the physical action and less about the characters' journeys. Though Don't Breathe certainly delivers in the suspense department, it never forgets that its heart lies in the characters.
Rocky, Alex, Money and the Blind Man are all introduced with simple yet powerful impact. With the characters offering little dialogue, viewers can clearly understand the motivation of each one and even begin to relate to their nuanced relationships. Alex is devastatingly friend zoned by Rocky, Rocky finds escape from her daily struggles through Money, and Money seeks power through his "tough guy" facade.
Without the movie choosing one hero or one villain, the viewer has an equal investment in every character. (But let's be real, Money's ever-heartfelt proclamation of, "Yo, my bitch is in there!" really steals the show.)
4. It Has Nonstop Twists And Turns
Often is the case that a premise that confines its actors to one space becomes stagnant or repetitive (I mean, one can only stand quietly, tiptoeing toward an escape route for so long). However, Alvarez achieves the impossible by creating constant scares and surprises within the setting of a tight-spaced Detroit home.
Each moment in which one might expect a clean-cut getaway or solid conclusion is eradicated by innovative and disturbing twists that leave a lasting impression. Don't Breathe does an incredible job of blending classic horror conventions with freshness and ingenuity that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Without giving too much away, even the staunch among us will have a difficult time hiding their shock during a certain scene involving a rather unique use of a turkey baster.
5. Stephen Motherf**king Lang
Let's face it. The film's horror magic lies in the brilliant casting of Stephen Lang as a vision impaired war veteran with a tragic past and a terrifying secret. A Tony-nominated actor, interestingly Lang once played Mike in a Broadway production of Wait Until Dark, in which his character terrorizes a blind woman.
Even so, the intense actor has arguably become most recognizable for his role as Colonel Miles Quaritch, the fierce antagonist in James Cameron's smash hit Avatar. It's refreshing to see Lang's talents showcased in such a layered role, his performance truly elevating Don't Breathe to a new level of horror.
6. The Title Holds True
Choosing a film title surely is a challenge in its own right. Even a well-rounded, enthralling film can be forgotten if its name fails to strike a chord with its audience. Thankfully, Don't Breathe effortlessly evaded this struggle. The title avoids embellishment and perfectly captures the essence of the film, with the characters entering fight-or-flight mode and trying desperately to limit the sound of their breaths to avoid deadly consequences. Now, while I'm sure the title was predominantly aimed to evoke the struggles present within the film, it irrefutably resonated for me as an audience member. The tension of the plot truly left me breathless.
Don't Breathe is out on digital on November 8, and Blu-ray and DVD November 29. Check out the trailer below.