Don’t Breathe (2016): Blind, Yet Perceptive

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.

Looking to get rich quick, a triad of friends decide to break into a former war veteran’s house and rob him. They hear that this man stores a great amount of money inside his home, gotten after a settlement bid on a case revolving his daughter who was accidentally killed in a car accident caused by a young woman. The trio are at first hesitant to do the deed, but after casing the man, they learn that he is blind. Figuring that it would be an easy and sure task that would result in them earning cold hard cash without having to lift so much as a finger, Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) decide to go through with crime, not knowing that the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) does have his own secrets, as well.

When the trio first step inside the man’s house, they do all that they can to stay silent and not catch the man’s attention as they try and find out where he stores his money. However, their efforts are proven to be fruitless when the Blind Man senses Money’s presence and shoots him without remorse, much to the shock of the remaining two who are now set on on remaining as quiet as possible so as not to clue the man in of their presence, as well. However, the Blind Man figures out quickly that there are still intruders inside his home, and starts securing all exits, ensuring that Rocky and Alex remain trapped within his territory.

This 2016 film was directed by Fede Álvarez, who was also the director of the 2013 remake film, Evil Dead. When comparing both films, the similarities start and end with the fact that both movies follow the journey of their main characters, who are both women, as they try to fight for their lives, and evade and defeat their own respective monsters – much like the “Final Girl” trope.

Judging solely from the title, Don’t Breathe is reminiscent to the Doctor Who episode (3×10), “Don’t Blink.” Anyone who is familiar with the Weeping Angels knows that one mustn’t turn their backs or close their eyes for even a second, lest they want to be condemned to being sent to the past and living the rest of their lives there, thus completely eradicating them from the present. In this case, Don’t Breathe also issues a warning to the pair of friends as they try to escape from within the house, reminding them not to do anything telling so as to clue the Blind Man that there are other intruders inside his home. However, although the warning is intended for the characters in the film, it doesn’t stop the viewers from also holding their breaths as they watch the onscreen events unfold.

The monster in the movie is a blind man, yet at the same time, he is also not absolutely considered a monster. The history of the man is a sad one. He was an ex-war veteran who must have seen many inhumane things during his military days, but nothing must have come close to his feeling of when he lost his only daughter to a car accident. To make matters worse, the law and society wasn’t on his side during this time. Seeing as the offender was a young wealthy white woman, she managed to escape from the reality of prison simply by offering and paying a settlement fee. These events are something truly tragic and would be enough to break any man. However, in the Blind Man’s case, he simply repressed everything that had happened. He tucked away his hurt and anger at the world, making it known by no one. This could have led to his being an other, as well, since “closely linked to the concept of repression – indeed, truly inseparable from it – is another concept necessary to an understanding of ideology, the concept of ‘the Other.’”1

The Blind Man is considered to be “Other”-ed by society. Because of the incident in the past where his daughter was unjustly taken away from him, this led to his seclusion. He continued living in an isolated place, not interacting with anyone else. He seemed to hate everyone else after what society allowed to happen to his daughter. Additionally, his disability set him apart, and this was what led him to initially be targeted by the group of friends who wanted to rob him. There can be two contrasting perspectives of viewing the otherness of a being – either something that one can sympathize with, or something that one feels threatened by.2 In this case there was a reversal in the way the otherness in the Blind Man was viewed. He was first seen as someone who was weak, but through his actions, he quickly became considered as a dangerous being.

Following Carroll’s article that talks about the aspect of curiosity that is found within or while consuming horror films, it can be seen both in a way of assent and dissent. It is the viewers themselves who are curious about what is going to happen next. The premise of the monster role being occupied by a man who is missing his sense of sight and has to rely on his other senses is something that I found unique. It is this fascination of mine with the uniqueness of the monster that made me want to continue watching so as to be able to see the other resourceful ways, schemes, and plans the man could come up with to be able to catch his preys. The film managed to “arouse interest and attention through being putatively inexplicable or highly unusual […], thereby instilling a desire to learn and to know [more].”3 However, the complete opposite can be said about how the characters felt. Yes, at first, they were curious about the possible riches hidden inside the Blind Man’s house, but after they witness firsthand the terrifying actions of the man that allowed him to easily kill another human being, they become closed off, scared, and they no longer wanted to learn more than what they already knew. All they wanted was to be as far away from the monster as possible.

Overall, Don’t Breathe’s story revolves around an ex-military man who keeps a stash of money within his safe in a storage room. The viewers were initially supposed to feel pity for him, in one way, as his disability was taken advantage of by three friends looking to score some easy money, but as the movie progressed, the blind man’s actions just seemed too far-fetched and insane that I personally sided with neither the teenagers nor him. And, consequently, coming into the latter half of the film, where it was revealed that he had abducted and impregnated the young woman who had caused the accident that killed his child, it was confirmed to me that blind man was indeed crazy. Perhaps, equally as crazy as the teenager who planned the heist in the first place.

I had hoped for the film to give me more, as I found it lacking at times. I hoped for there to be more development on the war veteran himself, but everything went downhill from the moment he started securing his home from the inside. His heightened senses did make for the film to be full of suspense, but the absurdity of the rest of the plot threw me off. However, movies like these also get you thinking about one’s own moral compass. Can situations ever be classified as completely either right or wrong? At first, I found myself rationalizing the Blind Man’s actions – It was the trio who trespassed; they deserved it; the man was already hurting deeply from the death of his daughter; etc. However, the moment the latter half of the movie comes to light, the question of who is right and who is wrong starts appearing again as unanswered. Overall, I found Don’t Breathe to have an interesting premise, but at the same time, it also felt like there were many different things that were happening that made the movie implausible and hard to fathom.

1 Robin Wood. “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 27.
2 Mark Jancovich. “General Introduction.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 13.
3 Noël Carroll. “Why Horror?” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 35.


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