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We Have to Talk About THAT Scene From Don’t Breathe

Posted on the 31 August 2016 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

We Have to Talk About THAT Scene From Don’t Breathe


Here's the Cliff'sNotes version of Don't Breathe: Detroit sucks. An entire generation in the town is being left behind. Desperate for their ticket to a better life, three Detroit teens - Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) - try to rob a blind Iraq war veteran (Stephen Lang) who is thought to be sitting on a lucrative court settlement related to the death of his daughter. The robbery doesn't go well. Sometimes their breathing gives them away. Other times not so much. But, damn, that blind dude is seriously scary. The end.

If that's truly all there was to Don't Breathe that'd be perfectly fine. Plenty a great movie has gotten by on less, and while we're not exactly lacking for amazing home-invasion thrillers these days there's always room for another one, especially if its offers a fresh, new(ish) take on the familiar subgenre.

However, there is more to Don't Breathe than a general "it's like that type of movie you've already seen a bunch of times except this time the guy is blind" hook. It repeatedly subverts genre expectations and keeps you guessing, but the entire time director-writer Fede Alvarez, who I only know from his Evil Dead remake, is secretly building to two major twists. 1. The story seemingly pivots toward a People Under the Stairs scenario as its big midpoint-of-the-movie twist before, 2, unleashing a shocking, but ultimately ridiculous body horror sequence in the final act as the villain's back story is finally laid bare.

Vanity Fair explained the twists in more detail:

While Alvarez manages to sustain tension from beginning to end, he does veer into some unfortunately ridiculous territory when Rocky and Alex learn that the blind man has been keeping his daughter's (accidental) killer hostage-and, later, that he's impregnated her with frozen sperm via a turkey baster, which he also plans to use on Rocky. The first revelation is surprising, but believable; the second one, though, is a step too far.

Squirmy laughter erupted through an early screening's audience during a close-up shot of the semen, and as the man lumbered over to Rocky, cutting through her clothing with scissors. But whatever thrills some found in the gag, its tone didn't match the film's otherwise subdued, ominous approach. Not to mention the questions it prompted: When did this man started storing his sperm? How much time has he spent studying the finer points of ovulation cycles? How many girls Rocky's age still wander around without birth control? Thankfully, Rocky never falls victim after all: Alex shows up to save the day, resurrected thanks to a clever camera trick that made it look like he'd died earlier

When asked by Collider, Alvarez explained the turkey baster idea was inspired by his desire to play with movie power dynamics as well as his recent experiences as a new father:

Antagonists or villains in movies always go fter power somehow. There's always something powerful in the story and they want that. And I think being a father myself, having had a kid a couple of years ago, and seeing what a woman can do - I gave my wife this thing, and she gave me back a person - it's insane. It's really one of those wonders of the world. A woman's ability to create life is such a powerful thing, and that's what he wants. The villain in our movie wants to have a daughter again. That was the best thing to ever happen to him, and he's dying to have that happen again in his life which is so lonely. So, this girl has the ability to do that for him, and he'll go for it. It's one of those things I can't believe hasn't been done before in movies. I mean she's right there. All he has to do is impregnate her, and she will give him a person. It's insane, and I was fascinated by it and wanted to put in my movie.

The bigger question, though, is whether or not Don't Breathe actually needs either of these twists. Does the villain really need to turn out to be morally compromised thus giving Alex and Rocky the moral high ground? Must the blind man have any more power-based motivation than simply wanting to retrieve the insane amount of money Rocky has stolen from his safe? You can argue they simply couldn't stretch this premise out over a full-length film without some bombshell revelations about the blind man changing the playing field along the way, but watch Hush for proof that a home-invasion thriller can quite capably get by on just well-made thrills and hero vs. villain conflict.

Don't Breathe doesn't necessarily need to be anything more than a home-invasion come wrong with a progression of increasingly tense moments as the would-be robbers turn from predator to prey and narrowly avoid certain death until the inevitable showdown. If you want to throw in some social commentary along the way, turn this into a battle of God's forgotten children in an era overrun by the one-percenters, fine, why not. Throw some startling "Detroit's like a third world country now" visuals at us the same way It Follows did:

Just make sure the film keeps us on the edge of our seats, which Alvarez is more than capable of doing.

That's not to say the twists ruin the film. With them, it is still a masterfully made thriller with memorable performances from Levy, Lang and Minnette. To the more analytical among us, it even works as not only one of the year's finest horror offerings but also one of the year's better social allegories. However, without the twists I think I would have actually liked and admired Don't Breathe more.

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