It may sound simple, but the stakes are entirely complex. Rocky (Jane Levy) dreams of getting away from her trailer park mother, the abandoned houses of Detroit, and taking her little sister away to California. Along for the ride are her two co-burglar friends- a neck tattoo sporting, scum-bag of a boyfriend named Money (Daniel Zovatto) and the hopeless romantic Alex (Goosebumps' Dylan Minnette), whose father works for a security company and would help break into any home just to be close to her. The trio have spent their time looking for that one big score, when a tip from a fellow criminal reveals that this house, inhabited by the blind man (Stephen Lang), has $300,000 hidden in it that he made on a settlement for the death of his daughter. Seems like an easy in-and-out job, that is till they get inside, and find out it's not so simple to execute.
What works strongly is the creation of tension. Alvarez co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayagues, laying out the architecture of the house in a manner that feels organically lived in, while they establish the characters with little detail. Even as the visuals feel entirely shrouded in darkness, cinematographer Pedro Luque follows along the floors to a piece of broken glass, to the dirt on the shoes, to the placement of a hammer on a wall, almost as if to let us know, that yes, these items will come into play somehow, someway. When they do come into play, they deliver with a well anticipated bang.
There are strong performances from all involved. Stephen Lang (Avatar) as the blind man is truly frightening. Not just because of his actions or his blood curdling voice, but because his character is an onion of emotional depth. There's empathy for his situation, a man who served his country, losing his eye sight, and his daughter. Eventually though, as our characters inspect deeper into the home, what is revealed will change our opinions of his character entirely. The shock moments will be heavy handed for some, but it is also one of the more memorable choices in movie history. As for Jane Levy, the actress is run through the physical gamut of horror lead mistreatment. She must sneak around, constantly fearful of her choices, in a matter of fight and flight, which will leave her bruised and bloodied. The game of cat and mouse between her and Lang is a back and forth battle of wits.
Ultimately, Rocky and Alex will spin in circles, avoiding the blind man, along with his aggressive guard dog, trying to find an escape route. And what makes Don't Breathe so unique, is how the three main characters start out as hardcore criminals, only for a twist of fate to distort the audiences view. Alvarez has drawn from past thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock or David Fincher's Panic Room, taking established character's and giving them everything to gain and everything to lose. The third act has some questionable actions from the main character, which some will accept, while others may loathe. I was indifferent. When the blind man shuts out the lights exclaiming, “now you see what I see”, the loss of light is a suffocating moment, displaying a realistic take on human fears that we all can relate to. You won't see any lazy jump scares in this movie.
Overall, Don't Breathe is an original, horror masterpiece. I completely respected Alvarez as a director after this. It was rumored he turned down interviews with the likes of Marvel and the possibility of a Fast & Furious film to stick with his own creation. It pays off big time. Don't Breathe is a reminder that there are still good, original movies being made out there. These are the kind of experiences that leave us breathless.
3 ½ Stars
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: DON'T BREATHE
STARRING: STEPHEN LANG; JANE LEVY; DYLAN MINNETTE; DANIEL ZOVATTO
DIRECTED BY: FEDE ALVAREZ
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ Stars (Out of 4)
In twenty years from now, I can see Don't Breathe being viewed as a classic thriller. It grabs your attention on the premise alone: a group of friends decide to rob the house of a blind veteran, only to find out they chose the wrong guy to mess with. Director Fede Alvarez's sophomore effort (Evil Dead re-make) is a well constructed, map of suspense, where the characters senses come into play, and the prospects of death are capable in every step taken. In what has already been a strong year for horror and thriller films, Don't Breathe will be memorable for some time to come.