I understand Hush also fits into this conversation, but I haven't seen it yet. Perhaps when I do, I will comment further and edit the poll.
I did not like Don't Breathe, and while I went in with reasonable expectations based on positive reviews, good word-of-mouth and strong box office, it quickly turned me against it for many of the same reasons as Fede Alvarez's previous film The Evil Dead. My opinion being so strongly against the grain and my general reaction to Alvarez putting me opposite Junior, who I'm generally sympatico with on movies, got me thinking about what is it about Alvarez that I cannot get past. My concise opinion is that Don't Breathe is a stupid film with stupid lead characters. It is also an ugly film, both in terms of how deep into the sleaze well the story goes and the general color scheme, which employs some of the ugliest shades of red, orange and green.
So why didn't this thrill me? I immediately didn't like the characters and the choices they made only re-enforced that decision. I don't mind that the trio of robbers are bad at their job, but do they have to be so bad that I'm left wondering how they ever managed to pull off a successful heist? One of them - usually 'Money' - would do something bad in the heat of the moment, and the level of complaining had me not believing they would attempt to work together a 2nd time, let along as a hobby. It isn't just that I didn't like them, it's that I didn't care. Rocky and Alex weren't as bad, but just the fact that they would have Money as a friend made them characters I had no rooting interest in.
About halfway in, the story does something interesting, and this is where the other two films come into discussion, and the SPOILER tag. We learn that The Blind Man is actually in the middle of a horrible vengeance scheme, and is pretty clearly insane. It raises an interesting discussion because three punks robbing a blind man puts you on the side of the blind man, but this revelation changes things... except it really doesn't because Alvarez has been on the side of the robbers from the beginning. He sets up the board so that you want them to succeed. Learning the truth about The Blind Man only gives justification.
Compare this to Green Room, which I thought of not because of similarities in story but because my adulation for director Jeremy Saulnier probably matches Juniorís for Fede Alvarez. (I donít know if J even has an opinion on Saulnier.) Green Room is Saulnierís follow up to Blue Ruin, and itís not as good but it continues to tread across Saulnierís unique landscape in regards to violence and contemplation of violent action. My biggest problem with Green Room is that once again I didnít care about the characters. Different case this time because I donít think the punks in Green Room are annoying or stupid, I just have no interest in their lifestyle and the film didnít give me an interest.
Where the two films split is in the moment when everything goes south for our leads. When The Blind Man brings violence to the robbers, I still didnít care as the conflict becomes more of a pissing contest between two sides each thinking they have the advantage. That same moment in Green Room is when I fell for the characters. The contest is a literal life-and-death struggle and I felt the fear. (It has nothing to do with the opposition being skinheads. Itís more the overwhelming force of the skinhead group, the proof that violence comes casually to them and later when we meet their leader and heís oddly remote as if his emotions were removed long ago.)
While thinking about those two films, I also considered 10 Cloverfield Lane, another film featuring an older man with suspicious motives. 10CL is a mental chess game where weíre asked repeatedly if we can trust the John Goodman character. Is he everything he says, or does he at least believe everything he says, or is he in fact a dangerous individual holding Mary Elizabeth Winstead hostage? Is she really as innocent as she pretends to be? This enigma generates considerable intrigue while we try to out think the film. We try to read every line reading, every facial expression. Each close-up is made significant by our reading into it. When everything finally comes out, weíre invested because weíve had a reason to care for characters on both sides.
If you think Iím building into another slam on Donít Breathe, I just did it. Read the above paragraph and consider that Breathe has none of this. Three characters whose actions are barely believable come up against a super human blind man and his wonderdog. I could do another paragraph on the use of dogs in this and Green Room, but I will just make two brief observations. The pit bulls in Green Room ultimately humanize the conflict and generate some of the most emotional moments, and those are scenes with the bad guys. Meanwhile, the dog in Donít Breathe has a relentlessness that becomes laughable as the film turns into a modern Cujo in the finale.
You could argue that the difference between Green Room and Donít Breathe is the difference between a Thriller and a Horror film. However, thatís doing a disservice to the intelligence of a well-crafted scare in Horror. Alvarez doesnít think twice about making an audience uncomfortable with shots during the Ďturkey basterí scene that made me question their necessity. He wasnít showing dread or terror, but gleefully icky close-ups, rip sounds and sharp edits. Is this his idea of entertainment?