One of the things that can make or break a mid-level thriller like Don’t Breathe is sound editing. Done poorly, it can undermine essential moments. Done well, it can enhance and subtly underline a visceral sense of dread.
In this case, you nailed it.
Don’t Breathe is a remarkable example of something that has been absent for some time from the film landscape--a potent, always engaging crime/thriller. Cracking glass, the low growl of a dog, a pair of garden shears ripping through clothes and then flesh, the creak of a loose board, a single breath--they’re all used to fine effect in punctuating moments that create real tension throughout the film.
The film’s premise is simple: a trio of disaffected youth living in the dystopian hellscape that is modern day Detroit attempt to rob the home of a veteran who was blinded during the second Gulf War. The film doesn’t waste a moment establishing the premise, so within ten minutes we are already inside the Buffalo-Bill-creepy home of a man far more capable than any of the three thieves could imagine.
Too often, these kinds of films cripple themselves with convoluted plots inevitably leading to narrative twists that stretch credulity to the breaking point. This is definitely not the case with Don’t Breathe. One of the strengths of this film is its minimalist aesthetic, stripped down storytelling and an equally sparse, but never dull, visual approach. There are surprises, but nothing that doesn’t scan.
So much of what works with this film is the result of understatement. The sound editing is particularly delicate, the result of carefully modulated choices. And the other aspects of the filmmaking: script, performance, editing choices and visual flourishes are equally deft. The casting is also pitch perfect. Good thing, because one bad performance in a cast of five (or six if you count the cerberus-like Rottweiler) undermine an otherwise perfectly good film.
More than anything else though, Don’t Breathe succeeds because the filmmakers understand that tension is built most effectively by confounding expectations. Instead of an endless succession of jump scares, the film creates circumstances that are surprising yet perfectly coherent with the world the characters inhabit. The shocks are well earned and flow from the story, rather than feeling as if someone is checking off a list of cliches.
I left this film feeling the time was well spent and knowing I had just watched something created by professionals concerned with the details of their craft. I was especially impressed with your restraint and understanding of when and where to jump the volume to eleven. Don’t Breathe was altogether a fulfilling cinematic experience, due in no small part to your dedication to something other than a paycheck.