Don’t Breathe refuses to rely on popular horror film techniques

Don't Breathe

Stephen Lang in Don’t Breathe/fangoria.com

When you hear the words “horror movie”, what springs to mind? No matter the answer, you have to see Don’t Breathe; the film is gaining popularity, quickly, and for good reason. Although the film has a couple of jump scares, as many current horrors do, its inventive use of camera direction, setting, and dialogue suggest that this is a film that is working towards exploring the genre of horror in order to discover new, thrilling territory.

Released on August 25, Don’t Breathe unfolds almost entirely in the space of one house. Director Fede Alvarez is able to use this small, closed space to its full potential. Not only that, but the cast is incredibly small as well. Through the use of small numbers and small spaces, Alvarez is able to conduct a full length horror that refuses to allow its audience to relax for an instant.

The film has a small amount of dialogue between characters, but this also adds to the suspense. The antagonist doesn’t actually speak more than a few words with the exception of one scene in the film, leaving each and every moviegoer in a dead silence; Alvarez truly seems to recognize the power of the cliché “silence is golden”.

This level of finesse is not always applied to horror films, especially those that make it into mainstream, blockbuster fuelled cinemas. Many movies of the genre with larger budgets rely on jump scares, defined as a technique often used in horror films and video games, intended to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event, usually co-occurring with a loud, frightening sound. One might argue that these techniques are what make the horror genre so exciting, and that said techniques are integral to the source of horror’s popularity with select audiences. Although this film has one or two, it has much more to offer.

Instead, one might argue that the fans of horror are not simply there for the thrill of being scared. Perhaps, horror can evolve into another kind of film on the big screen as it has on other, lower-budgeted but more explorative screens. Directors and writers are expanding upon the horror genre with the goal of creating a more complex, deeply-felt horror film. These films reject the jump scares and explore past the standard edge of the usual uses of plot, setting and character. With Alvarez’ Don’t Breathe, perhaps we will be seeing more of these explorative films on the big screen.

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