Rated R for a whole bunch of reasons. While Don't Breathe prides itself as a horror movie, which reminds us how violent it is, the biggest red flag is the very disgusting sexual assault that happens in the movie. It's aggressively uncomfortable, as all sexual assault is. But from there, the movie is remarkably violent. It somehow makes what should be a sympathetic villain completely disgusting and gross. A well-deserved R rating.
DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez
A student last year, before class, asked me if I had seen this one. There were a string of sensory based horror movies coming out and they started to bleed together. I remember that there's a movie called Lights Out or something. When I hadn't seen it and after the rousing review from this student, I threw it on my Netflix DVD queue. Well, it finally came in the mail and I watched it. I mean, I'm shocked that Fede Alvarez directed this, especially considering that I remember his absolutely brutal version of The Evil Dead. Maybe if I had known that he directed this movie ahead of time, I would have steeled myself. I would have known what I was getting into.
There's a lot in this horror movie that I like. But there's a lot in this movie that makes me feel gross. I don't know if I'm the same person I was when I had deep dived into horror movies. Maybe the world is a different place. Maybe I have to question my entire morality. There's something that left me real gross after the movie was over. I think a lot of it comes from the conceit. The conceit is genius. I'm not talking about the blind thing. We've now done Bird Box and a glut of other sensory based horror movies. Heck, I've been writing about so many Zatoichi movies that the concept of a blind tank is not something that even blips on my radar. No, the conceit I'm talking about is flipping the script on the heroes and the villains. I mean, the protagonists are all thieves. One of the thieves is super gross. The movie doesn't really shy away from the idea that the protagonists aren't paragons of morality. But it's cool. We have this villain who is a blind vet who lost his daughter. From any perspective, the villain should be the most sympathetic villain imaginable and the protagonists should be troublesome at best.
That conversation had to have happened. It had to. Between the screenwriters or the director, someone had to say, "I want to flip the script. I want the good guy to be the bad guy and the bad guy to be the good guy." I just wish that the movie would hold onto that central belief. It's such a good idea. After all, it worked for First Blood. Why wouldn't it work here? Because the majority of the movie is spent trying to make the protagonists sympathetic. But even worse, the antagonist is demonized. Like, he's allowed to be scary and still sympathetic. But instead, he's a guy who keeps a girl in his basement. He's a guy, and I'm mortified to write this, keeps a mini-fridge full of semen which he injects into women via means of turkey baster. Why is any of this necessary? I think Fede Alvarez is an extremely talented guy, but this movie is securing the idea that Alvarez is becoming something like Eli Roth. He really overwhelming dives deep into the offensive and the gross. Sure, it worked for Evil Dead. But even with Evil Dead, I never want to watch that movie again. The thing about shock cinema is that it really appeals to the worst of our sensibilities. I remember when I saw Dead Alive in college, I thought it was a movie that went too far. I never wanted to see it again. Conceptually, I should want to share Don't Breathe with other people. Everything on paper screams that this should be an ideal horror movie. But with this obsession returning the protagonists and antagonists to the status quo kind of throws a wrench into the whole thing.
But the movie did decide to take the safe route, so let's look at that from a functional perspective. Rocky, the final girl, deals with a moral choice throughout the story. There's no real good option for her. On one aspect, she could leave without the money. (Really, the movie doesn't really leave us the option to leave the money. After all, the sacrifice that the thieves make necessitates a million dollar payoff.) From a traditional moral perspective (and probably mine as well), the abandoning of the money is the objective good. After all, the victims of the hunt are the cause of their own misery. Because they chose to invade this man's home, it kind of follows the rules of the slasher film. With the Friday the 13th films, partaking in sexual behavior or drug use justifies whatever horrors happen to the heroes. So when Rocky keeps fighting for the money instead of focusing exclusively on escape, we allow ourselves to believe that she deserves it. But we also have that other moral evil that is oddly justifiable. Because Rocky is a mother living in a toxic environment with her daughter, she needs this moment to escape. It seems like the movie wants to have the moral discussion, but doesn't do much actually facilitate the discussion that the film is dancing around.
But there's almost a sense of unreality when it comes to The Blind Man. It's not like Don't Breathe screams realism. These thieves seem silly by any standard. I highly doubt that they act like this in real life. But The Blind Man has no drive outside of obsession. Part of me would love to think that his solitary lifestyle has driven him to this insane place. But it also makes him seem like a force of nature. So why am I cool about Michael Myers in Halloween versus The Blind Man? I think the idea comes from the promise of something different. I'm so attached to the concept that this villain could have been viewed from a different perspective. Instead, he comes across as completely one-dimensional. He is a force of nature sooner than a sympathetic human being. It's in those moments where we see him torturing the girl in his basement. So the movie really becomes about poking this bear as much as possible. We don't feel bad for him, but worry about how much more dangerous the character will become. There's also a silliness that is associated with how much he can do. It tends to be part of the archetype of the blind warrior. Like Daredevil and Zatoichi, these characters take beatings unimaginable, but keep going. The Blind Man might be taking things to a new extreme, so it means that nothing can really be trusted in the film.
Sometimes I love when movies are set in Detroit. I mean, I am pretty sure that Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert produced the movie through Ghost House. But this is one of those movies that really depressed me about Detroit. There's this image of Detroit as being exclusively economically depressed. I don't know if I can word this properly, but Detroit has a heart in its underdog quality that some movies, like It Follows, that understand that heart. But this just treats Detroit like a soulless apocalypse. The story actually hinges on how unforgiving Detroit is and that depresses me.
Yeah, it's a good scary movie. But in terms of the responsibilities it had, it took the easy way out and relied on scares more than the challenge. That challenge is there staring the audience in the face and nothing comes of it. It's a bummer, but still probably worth a watch if you want to feel icky afterwards.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.