… Or, confessions of a scary movie wuss.
Review by Corinna Tomrley
I’ve got a really weird relationship with scary films. I generally declare that I don’t do horror films, that I can’t take scary. And, on the whole, it’s true. But then I’ll mention a film I love and someone will say ‘that’s terrifying!’ Or I’ll say I can’t watch something and I’ll get a look of ‘my kid could take watching that’. So I’m contrary. But on the whole, I try to avoid it.
When I was a small kid and we got our first video player my family rented a lot of horror films. I kind of had to watch them so I’d lay there right in front of the TV with my hands beside my face so that no one would see that I’d close my eyes at the terrifying parts and take the piss out of me. But you don’t always have to see to absorb fear. And I heard and saw enough.
I also grew up watching stuff on TV and some of that was Hammer Horror. It developed my burgeoning sexuality and because it was more campy than truly petrifying, I could deal with that. But then there’s things like I adore Carrie, The Exorcist, Amityville Horror. But I cannot cope with Amityville 2: The Possession (it’s all about the POV of the demon. Fucking hell, just writing that…)
But in the last year I’ve been trying to challenge myself a bit when it comes to scary things. I watched The Blair Witch Project for the first time ever. And by myself. At night. (*Proud face) Perhaps not a great idea for someone who has nightmares virtually every night but I did it. And survived. I’m currently editing a horror novel and even though there’s been moments (when I’ve been generally glad it’s day time and not the middle of the night that I got to that bit), I’m dealing with it OK.
And when I got the invite to a press screening of Don’t Breathe I thought, hell. I’m gonna do this.
I couldn’t get anyone to go with me but I still decided to attend. I did prepare myself by watching part of the trailer beforehand, just to make sure that it wasn’t too hideous. There are some topics and scenes that I still won’t put in my head. But it seemed like something I could do. I told a friend and he said ‘I’m immune to horror and I found that trailer terrifying’. This kind of made me more determined to go.
I say I watched part of the trailer and that’s because I prefer to know as little as possible before I go and see a film. It’s more ‘pure’ an experience that way. But because I needed to make sure I could potentially do this I watched a bit. But not all because I didn’t want too much given away. Trailers can be assholes.
When I got there something happened to me that has never happened before at a press screening. Someone talked to me. It turned out he could be scared too and as he has served in Afghanistan it made me feel less wussy that I can get scared. There’s good reasons why this stuff shits us up. It’s not a weakness. He did say that he tends to laugh inappropriately when he’s scared. I said I sometimes did too but was more likely to be heard exclaiming ‘Shiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttt!’. Both those things happened. I was glad he was there in the cinema with me. It somehow made it better. As if I had an ally.
Don’t Breathe is part thriller part horror. I don’t want to give stuff away so I’ll just tell you that it’s about a group of young things breaking in to a house to do a robbery but they get more than they bargain for with the house’s occupant. The villains become the victims and vice versa. I thought I might find it hard to side with the kids but their characters are drawn so that most of them are very likable and you can’t help but put yourself in their shoes. (And then take them off again when you get into the house)
The film is most magnificently shot. It cleverly sets up signposts that at first appear like bleeding obvious exposition but you realize it’s like a game where you have to recall under pressure the clues they gave you. The camera work and editing are gorgeously seamless as well as rightfully showy and it makes this creepy house seem almost beautiful. The acting is really excellent. David Shepherd from Lost has really come into his own. And Jane Levy is good as the woman protagonist – equally savvy, tough and victimy without it being hard to watch as a fellow chick. There’s a bit of squirm misogyny but it does work within the story. I didn’t find it too exploitative and I don’t think it will give me PTSD (I’m not exaggerating here. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the torture scene in Wolf Creek). I did worry that the guy in the house being blind (and being called Blind Man in the credits) would be disablist but it was incorporated rather than being spectacle. There’s always going to be tricky balance issues with both these points. The same with the war-vet as psycho trope.
On the whole the characterization and filming of this story is excellently executed, full of tension, jump scares and tight pacing. The score is creepy as fuck and I was compelled from the first till last shot. I think all these things – as well as watching with an audience instead of scarily at home – made this film one I could handle and certainly one I recommend people checking out. Am I a horror convert? No. I’m still a weirdo about what I can and can’t do. But I’ll keep pushing that bloody envelope, be assured.
Don’t Breathe opens in UK cinemas 9 September