You have to fight for whatever tiny bit of sunshine you can find in this grey and gritty wasteland of a world we live in. And if that means smashing your way into the domain of the “haves” and filling your “have not” pockets with their valuables, well, so be it.
At least, that’s Rocky’s point of view.
For too long she’s suffered under the nicotine-stained thumb of her drunken, abusive mother: She’s been beaten down, locked up and left at the whims of her mom’s string of boozy boyfriends. And if that horrid excuse for a parent can make her life a living misery, she’ll surely do the same to Rocky’s kid sister, Diddy. And that just won’t do.
But Rocky has planned a way out. She’s old enough and pretty enough now to catch the eye of a hard-driving guy from the streets named Money. He’s dumb, but manageable. Between him and Alex, a kid who’s crushed on Rocky for a long time, their smash-‘n’-grab residential robberies have accumulated into a bank roll big enough to leave the dying suburbs of Detroit behind and make it out to California.
Sunshine. Beaches. Paradise. And little Diddy can have a chance she doesn’t have in Michigan.
In fact, Rocky and her posse are close to reaching the goal. One more job might just do it. And it turns out Money’s caught wind of an old, blind veteran who supposedly has a couple hundred thou in cash stashed somewhere in his broken-down dump of a house. He got it in a lawsuit after a rich guy accidentally killed his daughter. Or so the story goes. In any case, it sounds pretty perfect.
Alex isn’t in favor of this job, since stealing more than $10 large constitutes major larceny. But with codes from his dad’s security company, they ought to be in and out before the old guy even knows they’re there.
What Rocky and Money and Alex don’t know, however, is that the Blind Man on the other side of town isn’t quite as helpless as they’ve heard. He has demented plans of his own, one of which is already taking shape in his basement. And anyone who comes between this grizzled ex-Marine and his plans will surely be in for some hurt.
A world of hurt.
Rocky’s desire to save her sister from the same parental abuse she endured as a young girl is admirable, even if her means of accomplishing that goal obviously is not.
When things turn terrible at the Blind Man’s house, Alex backs away from escape twice to try to rescue Rocky. They both later pause to aid another victim.
At one point when the Blind Man has grabbed Rocky and is tormenting her, she whispers, “Please, God!” The Blind Man retorts, “There’s no God. What a joke. You tell me what God would allow this? … There’s nothing man cannot do once he accepts that there is no God.”
The Blind Man is about to sexually torture Rocky, but is stopped just short of accomplishing that plan. She is fully clothed, but he cuts into the crotch of her leggings. (Nothing is seen.) It’s also eventually revealed that the Blind Man has another female victim, whom he has captured and forcefully impregnated, chained up in his basement.
Rocky’s mother makes a crude, accusatory joke about her daughter performing oral sex for money. Elsewhere, there’s verbal reference to someone’s masturbation habits. Rocky’s mom is cohabitating with her current boyfriend.
Don’t Breathe unleashes a torrent of visceral torments on the Blind Man’s victims—and invites the audience to watch. The muscular veteran soldier chokes, beats, bruises and shoots his home invaders. They swing back with any solid object they can find. Blood flows freely from everyone involved. It’s particularly wince-worthy when the Blind Man chokes and brutally punches Rocky in the face on several occasions. Her eyes and mouth swell and bleed, with a deep bruise pooling around one eye.
Three people are shot in the head or face. Twice, the victims lie in puddles of their own blood. We watch someone slowly bleed out from a mouth wound. One person receives other gunshot wounds to the body. People are hit with a hammer and a crowbar. Someone is stabbed with pruning shears. Men fight, slamming each other into walls and a radiator. Rocky grotesquely jams a turkey baster filled with bodily fluids into the Blind Man’s mouth.
Someone crashes through a skylight in a rain of broken glass. A woman falls through a ventilation shaft and appears to break bones. An unconscious Rocky gets dragged down the street by her hair and then has her ankle painfully stomped on. Several people are threatened by a slavering, lunging Rottweiler.
About 35 f-words and 5 s-words. Three misuses of Jesus’ name. We also hear about a half dozen uses of “b–ch.” Other vulgarities include “h—” and “a–.”
Rocky’s mom and boyfriend swig from of a bottle of booze. Rocky and Money smoke. The young thieves sedate the Blind Man’s dog by lacing its food with sleeping pills. Money releases a gaseous sedative into the Blind Man’s bedroom.
Money urinates on someone’s rug. Rocky tells a story of her mother locking her in the trunk of their car as a child because she cried when her father deserted them.
We all rationalize the stupid things we do at times. It’s a part of human nature. Some of us—hopefully most of us—come to our senses eventually and admit our thick-headed failings. We ask for forgiveness for infractions large or small.
But some … don’t. Some people hold onto their hurts, nurse their grievances and endlessly rehearse their impassioned sense of injustice. They dig in their heels, no matter what patch of quicksand they may be on the verge of foolishly stumbling into.
That’s the theme at the core of this shadow-crawling, hold-your-breath horror flick, one in which a psychotic blind man’s bitterness boils over in unspeakable ways.
Yes, on the surface it’s a story of three troubled kids breaking into the wrong tormented ex-marine’s house. And director Fede Alvarez is adept at using a simple story to keep his audience tiptoeing along a tense razor’s edge for 90 minutes of ever-escalating batterings and murder.
That’s grisly, problematic stuff all on its own.
But that’s only the surface.
It’s the dark heart underneath that makes things all the more disturbing. Everybody is wrong and wronged here, tortured and torturer. Some more than others. Do we root, then, for the pretty thief who’s willing to make innocent people into victims because her life is awful? Or do we empathize with a badly scarred former soldier who does atrocious things after a loved one’s tragic, unjust death? Or should we simply throw out any sense of right and wrong altogether?
These are the kinds of questions Don’t Breathe asks, even as it proffers its own macabre “answer”: the not-so-subtle suggestion that everyone in the film deserves to be sliced, diced, torn and eviscerated in gruesome ways.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.