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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Movie Review: Don't Breathe (2016), The Gift, Morality and Setting as a Character

Starring: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette Daniel Zovatto
Written By: Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues
Directed By: Fede Alvarez
Release Date: August 26, 2016
Rating: A

My Thoughts:
The most frighting thing abouDon't Breathe is the uncomfortable feeling you get once you leave the theaterThat feeling comes from the implication that maybe what you believe to be right and wronmay isn't correct. It's a film that ends your typical, "happy ending" where the protagonist defeats the villain and gets away, but this is not done without a leaving us with a heavy conscience.

   This is the story of Rocky (Jane Levy) and how she and her friends decide to rob the house of a blind war veteran. However, once they enter his home they realize he wasn't as helpless as they originally thought him to be as he murders Rocky's boyfriend, Money, in cold-blood right in front of her and her friend, Alex.
So, it's obvious that we begin to fear for their lives, too, right? But while we begin to  fear for these as if it were our own, what we need to note is that the blind man isn't totally in the wrong in his actions.

   So, if the blind man isn't the villain, then who is? Well, there are many different answer to that question. The blind man is not initially the villain as the children deserved the fight they got from him because they broke into his home and tried to rob him. But all that is forgotten as the blind man becomes more and more violent towards the kids and his evil secret is finally revealed and it is because of these actions that he then becomes the villain. However, other than the fact that we're watching them almost being murdered, there's not many other reasons to feel sympathy for Rocky and her friends considering they broke into the blind man's home,  an act that makes them villains as well. Yes, Rocky is just a young girl trying to get her and her sister away from their alcoholic mother and she sees the blind man's $300,000 settlement as her one way ticket out of there, but is that enough of a reason to go through with the robbery of an elderly, blind, war veteran? But we can't just write Rocky or the blind man as the villains of the film because there's another villain we haven't discussed and that's Detroit itself.

Simply speaking, these kids are trapped in a place they do not want to be. Regardless of who trapped them there, the house itself is a villain along with Detroit as the kids just can't even seem to escape the house, much less, the blind man himself. 

There are tight, close ups of the kids face-to-face with him on many occasions and because of this, it's almost as if he's staring directly at us. So, like the children, we're holding our breaths hoping he won't catch us in tight, cramped corners. The blind man is always there. If he's not behind the kids, then he's surely not far away, which adds to that claustrophobic feeling because it's as if there's no where to go even though the house is filled with room and they kids are constantly finding new places to hide. However, it's because the children are always in the line of sight of the blind man that we feel as if the house is smaller than it actually is and all more entrapping.

 This, however, contrasts with the way how Detroit is portrayed in the film because Detroit, in itself, is a villain. Detroit is entrapping and it's almost as entrapping as the blind man and his home. While it's easy to point out how big and desolate the area is by just the film's wide outdoor shots of the blind man's neighborhood, it's still keeping our character's there against their will. Yes, the streets are empty and the houses look deserted and an eerily, thick fog blankets the area, making it seem larger than it probably is, but Detroit is trapping Rocky in itself. She wants to get out Detroit, but she's physically trapped here because of the lack of money. When Rocky escapes the blind man's home for the first time, note she runs out to nothing. The fog disguises everything around her and there's just this white space surrounding Rocky as she runs outside which adds to the eerie, isolated feeling on the outside of the house, but as soon as the fog settles, the neighborhood appears. However, there's still no one around to help her and because the area is so deserted and the area is so big that there's both everywhere and nowhere to run and hide. It's because this that the blind man finds her and drags her back into the house, trapping her inside of a place she doesn't want to be once again.

As a viewer, we’re destined to connect with certain characters and preferably so with our main character, who we want to see triumph over the villain in the end. But in both Fede Alvarez’ Don’t Breathe and Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, The Gift, there’s more than meets the eye to both of our leads. In The Gift, we meet Simon, a well-to-do business man who has just moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Robin (Rebecca Hall). After Simon reconnects with a former high school classmate named Gordo (Joel Edgerton), things turn sinister, but, again, not in the way you think. The film sets up Gordo to be the villain. He’s dark and brooding and just plain creepy. He shows up to their house at odd times and leaves strange gifts for them. At the end of the film, Gordo walks away from the hospital smiling deviously because Simon has realized that the child his wife has given birth to may not be his, implicating that Gordo may have raped his wife when she fell into a drug induced stupor months prior.

So, we have a man that is seemingly the villain of them film and he even may or may not have committed a terrible crime. However, he’s not the one we should be afraid of. It’s Simon and more importantly, it's us. We find out that Simon bullied Gordo when they were in high school and it’s because of Simon’s bullying that Gordo’s father almost beat him to death. Though Simon says he’s sorry for what happened and that he’s changed, it becomes soon apparent that Simon is still the same bully he was in high school. He actually commits crimes like blackmailing a co-worker and fabricating evidence for a job promotion while Gordo really hasn’t done anything wrong to our knowledge.While the fear in the film lies in the implication
that Robin was raped by Gordo. We don’t know for sure if he did it or not and neither does Simon. What’s then to worry about is the fact that we may have been okay with letting a rapist get away.

And as for Rocky, as I've stated, she’s very eager get out of dreary Detroit with her younger sister. She and Money, see no problem in robbing this man. It’s only Alex who points out that “it’s messed up to rob a blind guy,” but even he eventually decides to go along with the robbery after being manipulated by Rocky, who used his feeling for her as a ploy to get him to help. After witnessing the murder of her boyfriend from a closet, Rocky is left with a big decision to make. Should she take the cash and risk her and Alex’s lives or walk away alive, but empty-handed? She selfishly chooses the money, which puts the blind man on their trail as he now knows that Money wasn’t alone. She's still the reason for her friends' deaths and more importantly, she seems more concerned for her life rather than theirs and because of her selfish attitude, she's going to still be trapped by that fact no matter where she goes. When Rocky makes it out of the house, she's seemingly going no where in the foggy area surrounding this neighborhood. So, even though there's some sort of civilization out there and we know there is because we've seen it, Rocky is still literally going no where. She was originally trying to get out of the state, believing that both Detroit and her mother were trapping her in a life she didn't want, but just like when the Blind Man shuts all the lights off in the house and we see the blank stare in Rocky's eyes as she fumbles around in the dark, note that the scene signifies that Rocky's still fumbling around down that dark path in her life because even when she gets away, she'll still that selfish girl that to rob a blind man and got her friends killed in the process. But we still want her get away. We're still rooting for her until the very end and that's the scariest thing about all of these films is the fact that the villains are not the Simon, or Gordo, or the blind man or the kids he's chasing around. It's not even Detroit. It's us.

Theoretically, the kids are in the wrong because they broke into the man’s house, but we excuse their actions. Furthermore, Gordo really hasn’t done anything wrong to Simon. He overstays his welcome at times and shows up at their house way too often, but he’s not the villain the movie makes him out to be. This is especially because we don’t even know if he raped Robin or not and it’s highly unlikely he did because, again, Gordo is not a bad guy. However, we’ll never really know that for sure, will we? And even if we find out that he did, would that really change our perception of him considering we were rooting for him to get away knowing he may have committed this crime.

 Yes, the blind man brutally murders two children, but didn’t they deserve it after they break into his home? And yes, Simon now has to live with the idea that his child may not his, but then again, he lied about Gordo being molested as a child, got him almost beaten to death by his father and now still viciously taunts him when they’re adults. We're rooting back and forth for potential rapists, thieves, blackmailers and bullies which implies a lot about the unreliability of our own moral codes. Don’t Breathe has us holding our breaths even after we’ve left the theater, but not because of all its effective horror techniques, but because maybe we were wrong in letting Rocky get away.

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