It’s been an interesting year when it comes to film. For the most part, the movies that have been a success both critically and financially have been few and far between, something that is actually quite uncommon, despite the snide remarks that everyone’s uncle will make about “films these days” at the family picnic. But one genre has escaped unscathed for the most part this year, and that’s horror.
I’m not the world’s biggest horror fan, but I enjoy a well made horror movie, and this year has produced a number of horror films that piqued my interest enough for a cinema trip – with The Witch, The Conjuring 2 and Light’s Out all stand outs. But the best of that crop may have come this week, with the release of the surprise hit (in America), Don’t Breathe.
Apparently it was less of a surprise hit here in Australia, judging from the amount of friends I had at the screening.
Don’t Breathe is a riff on the classic “home invasion” horror trope, but with a twist. While most horror movies of this ilk will see someone come into the protagonist’s home and cause havoc, this movie follows those who break in. Rocky, Money and Alex are three young teens trying to climb out of the slums of Detroit and into the lap of luxury through carefully planned burglaries. When Money learns of an old blind Army veteran that happens to have a large amount of cash in his house after a settlement, the trio plan to use it as one final heist before disappearing to California. What they didn’t count on, however, was the blind Army vet being a veritable killing machine with one or two screws loose and a few secrets of his own. Suddenly, the hunt is on.
The performances from the trio of kids were fine, they’re were of the level one would expect in 3 teenagers in a horror film, headlined by Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Suburgatory). But the star of the film, and the one that people will keep talking about is Stephen Lang. Lang is one of those actors that people know, but not necessarily by name, but basically, if you’ve ever seen an old Army veteran in a movie, it was probably Stephen Lang. And here, he’s able to be gleefully psychopathic and even gets some pretty deep moments. We understand his motivation, even if we don’t agree with it. And that’s rare for a horror movie villain. He doesn’t get many lines either, with most of his acting being of the silent variety.
That’s probably a good thing, really. The “evil Army guy from Avatar” is good at many things, but monologuing isn’t one of them.
The film itself is plenty tense enough, and as far as horror movies go, that’s exactly what you look for. The threat is ever present and believable, and the characters react in more or less realistic and rarely in openly stupid ways. So, on that level, this gets a pass. Unfortunately, I do have some problems with this film that will drag the score down a bit (and it’s been the case with all the otherwise very good horror movies this year that I’ve had some issues with it). So let’s dive into those.
Firstly, the movie tried to be a bit too tricky with Lang’s character, known only as The Blind Man. The character worked when he was just a pissed off veteran with a chip on his shoulder and a murderous “get off my lawn” complex. But the movie didn’t think that was enough, and (without spoiling anything) added some wacky motivational stuff to Lang’s character that wasn’t completely necessary to telling the story. It padded out the run time, but it seemed superfluous and over-the-top.
Secondly, the two horror movies that scared me the most this year have been The Conjuring 2 and Light’s Out. Neither were made with the same film making skill as this film, but they both had something this one lacked – empathetic protagonists. Regular families living their life until they suffer the horrors in these films leaves you thinking “that could have been me”. I couldn’t think that with this movie, no matter how much they tried to paint the young thieves as “not that bad” because I’m not certain I’m physically capable of stealing.
Once, in my undergraduate degree, I had an important test to get to and all the pens in my bag were dead. So I made a mad dash to the Uni Bookstore, to grab myself a few new biros so I could answer all the questions and pass. However, once I grabbed my pens, no-one seemed the least bit interested in coming to the desk to serve me, no matter how many times I rang the assistance bell. I appeared to have found the store both open and completely unmanned. Desperate to get to my test on time in possession of a useable writing implement, I took one of the biros and left with it. But I felt so guilty that at the conclusion of the test, I returned to the bookstore and waited 25 minutes behind a student trying to haggle down the price of an Anatomy textbook so I could pay the 70c I owed them. So, whenever a voice in my head tried to ask “How would you cope with this situation, Adam?”, a more sensible voice immediately replied “Well, I’d start by not robbing anyone, even if they were blind”, and that long term dream was diminished somewhat. I’m not sure if that’s on me for being a goody two-shoes, or if that’s a more universal feeling, but it certainly impacted my viewing experience.
Pictured: One very rebellious student who nearly stole a pen once.
“Doo doo doo-doo doo doo doo doo, Rebel rebel!”
But overall, there was more to like about this movie that there is to dislike it, and if you’re a big horror fan I defintely recommend finding your own private screening to enjoy this movie.
3.7/5 – a flawed but overall very well done horror film.
ADDITIONAL MOVIE NEWS:
- Starting off with a congratulations to Jackie Chan, who this week was announced as the recipient of an honorary Oscar at next year’s ceremony. Chan has been a staple of cinema for many years now, and has continually acted as a bridge between Asian cinema and Hollywood. No snarky comment or sarcastic remark here, just a hearty congratulations on a great career for Chan, and long may it continue.
- Comic universes have been all the rage in Hollywood these days, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe delighting audiences and the DC Extended Universe dividing them in equal measure. But now another comic book publisher has entered the fray, with Vault Comics developing films based on their properties. One of the properties reportedly set for an adaptation is “The Atoll”, which I’m told is the story of an Olympian who has to fight a 21-foot Great White Shark. I’m in!
- Mel Gibson was in the news recently, and apparently he claims to have directed the “perfect superhero movie” as part of his resume. Now, before you say “Gee, I didn’t know he directed 1986’s Howard the Duck. Certainly, there’s less anti-semitic rants in there than I’d expect if that were the case”, Gibson was reportedly referring to his film The Passion of the Christ, about that brilliant superhero Jesus. And what does every great superhero movie need? Yep, you guessed it. The Passion of the Christ 2, or Jesus vs Buddha: Dawn Service, will be hitting your local theatres sometime in the next few years. So get ready for a resurrection like you’ve never seen before!
If you are reading this Mr Gibson, I really love the concept and the comments and please don’t hurt me.
- Director Duncan Jones, the man behind Moon and Source Code, is reportedly interested in a sequel to his most recent film, the video game adaptation Warcraft. I’m glad he is, because literally no one else is.
- Sam Mendes is one of the most prominent filmmakers of the last couple of decades, directing the classic film American Beauty and having made the two most recent James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre. Having now departed the Bond franchise, rumours have surfaced that his next project will be….. a live action remake of James and the Giant Peach. The man who showed a mid-life crisis in painstaking detail on screen before working with the new gritty version of 007 is probably perfectly suited to the tail of a boy and his insect friends that sail around the world in a hollowed out piece of fruit. It makes sense to me.
Also, remaking movies based on Roald Dahl books cannot possibly go wrong