Saturday, August 27, 2016

Notes on the Movie Don't Breathe

Notes on the Movie Don't Breathe

Occasionally a movie comes out that serves as a great example of a particular technique in storytelling. In the movie Don't Breath, the technique is developing and sustaining suspense.

The movie opens at a great height over a residential neighborhood in Detroit. Something is happening on a street below. As the camera slowly moves down, it becomes apparent that an older man is dragging a young woman along the middle of a street.

The way this moment is created suggests a metaphor for the story. As we move in on an event, our perception of what we are seeing and our understanding can change.

This may seem like a simple point, but consider the opening scene in the movie The Lovely Bones, loosely based on the novel. The movie opens with a father explaining the life of a penguin trapped in a snow globe to his daughter. But the explanation doesn't speak to what the book is about, and the problem is, the movie uses narration directly taken from the book in the opening scenes.

What the movie The Lovely Bones is about is slightly out of focus (to be generous). What Don't Breathe is about is clearly suggested by the first shot of the film.

With inexperienced writers, often the first lines of action in a screenplay are used to introduce characters or locations.

In a weakly written novel, the opening lines aren't used to convey a story, but to introduce characters, locations, and plot. But without a context, the details don't convey a storyt. They convey a writer isn't sure how to tell a particular story.

The movie The Lovely Bones could have used that opening image to suggest a story different from the book, but that would have meant re-imagining the story being told as a movie that is not the same as the book.

Returning to Don't Breathe, we meet three young people robbing a house in Detroit. For two of the teens, the robberies are about getting out of Detroit and having street cred. For one teen, it's helping his father financially, and he's also smitten with the girl in the group.

Yes, we could use the word 'introduction' to convey the purpose of these scenes. But they also introduce character whose lives are in flux.

That sets up the major thrust of the plot, that they will break into the house of a blind man who has won a court settlement and rob him.

They get inside, the girl even finds the money, but getting out of the house, and why the basement door has a huge lock, will involve a steadily escalating tension.

What explains the actions of all the characters, including the blind man, are those quick, brief details in the opening scenes.

These is violence in the movie, so it's not for everyone. And when people get hurt in this film, we're allowed to share their pain and desperation. And up until the final shot of the movie, we can't be sure how this movie will end.

Recommended for folks who like both a clever plot and strong characterization.


To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.