'Don't Breathe' Proves Reality Can Be More Terrifying Than Fiction -- But Holy $#!&! That Ending!
By John Boone
Photo: Screen Gems
There was a period of time during the aughts when seemingly every thriller, every found footage flick, every horror movie was "Based on a True Story." No matter whether there were ghosts or demons or killer clowns, there were also real events that inspired the story. You couldn't escape it.
For the most part, moviemakers have moved past slapping "Based on a True Story" on trailers -- unless the movie is about a white Southern family doing something nice for a black person. It was essentially a gimmick, anyway; the film should be all the scarier because it supposedly happened. Don't Breathe, the new home invasion picture from director Fede Alvarez (2013's Evil Dead remake), doesn't carry the label. But it could.
The movie follows a trio of teens who rob homes in Detroit -- a sort of Bling Ring of the Motor City -- to bankroll their dreams of a better life in California. There's Rocky (Jane Levy), whose mom dates a man with a literal swastika tattooed on his hand and abuses Rocky and Rocky's little sister. Meanwhile, Alex (Dylan Minnette) has...something going on with his dad. And Money (Daniel Zovatto) has a "$" sign tattooed on his neck, and that's about all we know about him.
The three orchestrate the heist of a blind man, who is only credited as "The Blind Man" (Stephen Lang). If there is any moral dilemma over their mark, Money demurs, "Just cause he's blind don't mean he's a f**king saint, bro." The stupid teenagers proceed to ignore every red flag and wind up trapped inside his home, unable to make a noise lest their sightless pursuer catch them. Literally every shot could be close-captioned "[screaming internally]".
The movie is scary. It starts off scary -- even Ghost House Pictures' title card is scary -- and only becomes more torturous from there. It's scary in how unsubtle it is, tracking through the house and zooming in on all of these things that will obviously be important later -- a bell! A mallet! A piece of glass! But knowing they will come back into play -- though, not when -- turns the movie into a nightmarish puzzle. It's scary in that stupid way, when you know what's coming, but still find yourself clutching the person next to you anyway. It's scary in original ways, too, completely built on the dramatic tension of who sees who -- and in one pseudo-night vision sequence, the audience is the only one who sees anything.
It's scariest because, while perhaps not directly inspired by true events, the premise reminds me of the Byron David Smith killings of 2012.
Those killings took place in Little Falls, Minnesota -- a Midwest city in vaguely the same sense as Detroit. Smith wasn't blind, but both he and The Blind Man had military backgrounds, the former flew Air Force during the Vietnam War before moving to the U.S. State Department, the latter is said to have fought in Iraq. Both were cased by teenagers looking to loot large amounts of cash. Both shot and killed the teens after they broke in.
In Don't Breathe, Money brings a gun into The Blind Man's house and, as Alex notes, that gives T.B.M. the legal right to shoot them. And he does -- he actually straight-up murders Money, in slow-motion. Smith's case revolved around the "Castle doctrine," which allows a homeowner to defend their home using lethal force -- under certain circumstances. Smith was ultimately found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder with premeditation and on two counts of second-degree murder, with one juror calling him a "deranged individual." He was sentenced to life in prison.
And that's where the truth ends for Don't Breathe...
(SPOILER WARNING: If you've gotten this far without seeing the movie, stop reading now. I'm about to discuss the ending, which is so bonkers insane that it needs to be seen to be believed.)
I almost wish the movie had stayed in that lane -- the cat-and-mouse elements proved the most terrifying, anyway -- but it takes a rapey twist in the third act, albeit one you kind of saw coming.
You learn early on in the film that T.B.M. is loaded because he won a settlement after his daughter was killed in a car wreck by another driver. The other driver was a "rich girl" who was found innocent and served no time. When Rocky and Alex descend into T.B.M.'s labyrinth of a basement, they discover their captor is also holding that girl captive. (Which is essentially the twist in that 2009 Julia Roberts movie, Secret in Their Eyes! But I digress!)
Here's where it gets really f**king loony: during an escape attempt, the "rich girl" is killed. Through a series of truly unfortunate events, T.B.M. captures Rocky and tells her that he thought it was only fair that since the "rich girl" took his child from him, she give him another. He says he is not a rapist -- they had a deal that once she gave birth, she would be set free. Which is still rape -- but tells Rocky he cannot wait any longer. He goes to a mini fridge and procures a jar of semen and a turkey baster and attempts to inseminate Rocky. Honestly, I'm experiencing PTSD just writing this, so, uhh...go watch it for yourself!
I will say this much: Don't Breathe has a lot more semen in it than you would probably expect.