Gabriel Rodrigues says Breathing Happy perfectly crafts a haunting and dream-like atmosphere delivering a relatable story to audiences.
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
Easily the best thing in Breathing Happy is the atmosphere built by its writer, director, and editor, Shane Brady. The film’s sound design by Matthew Reisinger, score by composer Chris Dudley, and cinematography by Evan Zissimopulos must be praised before anything else. Each element perfectly fuses to create a surreal ambiance that surrounds, disturbs, and quickly drags audiences into the narrative.
Dylan Bradley (Brady) is a recovering drug addict celebrating Christmas as he achieves one year of sobriety, but he’s alone because he’s pushed away his family. Zissimopulos shines here with images that are isolating and express the distance Dylan feels from others. To make matters worse, his Christmas develops into a kind of fever dream with illusions of monsters from his past determined to push him to relapse.
Marshall (Hugh Scott), his drug dealer — supported by a distorted and eerily echoing voice — wants Dylan to question what he truly wants. Marshall endeavors to sound understanding, but he only desires for Dylan to sink deeper and deeper into the suffocating depths of his addiction. It’s a haunting moment that profoundly affects viewers and makes Breathing Happy one of this year’s standout horror films.
One aspect of the film that increases the dream-like feeling is the visual aesthetic. It’s like we're watching it on an old television. Dylan often finds himself thinking about his childhood memories and the things his late adoptive father recorded on his camera. The film’s images, combined with its distinctive visual style, give it an eerie tone while also establishing nostalgia. It’s easy to detect how much losing his father shook Dylan and his family. However, that’s not the only tragic event presented to us. There’s more to it. Almost as if it is a confession, Dylan talks about a hockey injury that made him lose a year of school and his friends.
The story's central relationship is Dylan’s with his family, making it authentic and relatable. We see their empathy and desire to help him through his struggles and the harsh situations they have to go through. Unfortunately, he’s not easily understood by everyone. “He’s an addict. If he just stops using drugs, he’s cured,” one of his sister states. Watching Dylan go through so much before hearing that cold and thoughtless opinion hurts more than we can imagine.
What really resonates is how the film treats loss. We see how the death of Dylan’s father has affected everyone. Some of his family members express sadness, while others are taken by anger. We’re also invited to hear part of a eulogy given by Dylan’s sister at the funeral. At that moment, we understand Dylan’s father was the happy center of the household uniting everyone.
Brady takes pauses to abuse the film’s surreal setting, creating moments of genuine laughter. When Dylan needs to go through a process to prove he won’t relapse, he encounters two talking doors. The scenes in which they discuss and make more of a mess than anything else are a significant and irresistibly engaging change of pace. Brady’s lead performance is good, but his work behind the camera is what will astound audiences. He blends harsh and emotional situations with hilariously absurd ones effortlessly. Breathing Happy concludes with a memory of Dylan washing dishes with his father — something he loved doing. It’s a cozy and sincere moment that will hit home for audiences and ultimately destroy them.
Breathing Happy is now streaming on Fandor.