SXSW Review: Don’t Breathe

Let’s face it, movie marketing has hit its saturation point. It could be argued that press releases, leaked set photos, and casting announcements are more heavily discussed than the completed films themselves. That’s why it was such a treat to walk into a movie that up until showtime was known as only “Untitled Fede Alvarez”. If that name means anything for you, you have an idea of what type of movie this will probably be, but you also have no real idea. The film, dubbed Don’t Breathe as the film started at SXSW, is both exactly what you would expect as a follow-up from Fede Alvarez and a shocking departure.

Firstly, let’s get this out of the way, the first act of Don’t Breathe is it’s weakest. Full of character spewing exposition and backstories at a backbreaking pace, it both feels ill-paced and awkward. Okay, now that’s been said, no one will really care about this. And they shouldn’t. The type of movie this is, which I will leave intentionally vague, is the type of movie that needs this utilitarian set-up. This is in place so we know who to root for and why, and it is stacked in the front half of the movie because there is no breathing room (pun accidentally intended) in the rest of the film’s running time.

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This is the fun kind of horror movie. The kind when the thrills comes fast and furious and increase in both intensity and campiness. By the end of the film the audience is both giggling and on the edge of their seat. And that is the success that is Don’t Breathe. Fede Alvarez has shown he knows how to ratchet up tension and he knows how to have fun as he’s doing it. If there is any noticeably through-line between Evil Dead and this film, it is that. Fede has not shown an interest in realistic grittiness or a slow examination of psychological terror. He, and his films, are more intent on throwing action, obstacles, and tension at you at such a pace you have no time to do anything but be captivated.

Sure, there are plot holes, sure there are ridiculous moments, but it doesn’t matter. Fede is darn good at this type of filmmaking and he is in command of his talent. The skill and frenetic energy on display not only leaves very little time to think about any plot hole or silliness, it also earns our adoration. You can feel the filmmaker smiling and having a good time so we are more than happy to go along.

So when the credits for Don’t Breathe roll, you realize two things: 1. You are on the edge of your seat, 2. You are smiling. In that sense, Don’t Breathe can’t be called anything but a great time of escapist (another intentionally accidentally pun) entertainment.

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