Writer/director Fede Alvarez reunites with his Evil Dead (the 2013 version) star Jane Levy for Don’t Breathe, an intense thriller that’s difficult in parts to watch – and I mean that as a compliment. Alvarez has created a home invasion horror story that busts down genre conventions by focusing on four characters who are so flawed it’s impossible to root for any one of them. In fact, Alvarez’ script is so well crafted that the audience’s allegiances will constantly shift as the film progresses toward a twisted ending that thankfully isn’t telegraphed well in advance.
Don’t Breathe is a fairly simple story on its surface. Three friends – Rocky (Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Alex (Dylan Minnette) – steal Alex’s father’s home security company keys to access houses where they know the owners won’t be at home. Alex establishes a set of rules for those home burglaries that includes a dollar amount limit on the amount that can be taken in order to limit their potential jail time if they’re caught.
Money and Rocky convince Alex to help them pull off one final big score before they take off for California. Their target: a blind Gulf War veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives alone in the only occupied house in a rundown neighborhood. The blind man has apparently received a substantial payment for the wrongful death of his only daughter, and the three partners in crime believe robbing a blind man will be easy peasy. They quickly learn they’ve drastically underestimated their target and soon become the hunted rather than the hunters. The blind man’s other senses have been heightened to make up for the loss of his sight, and after locking the intruders in his home, the deadly game of cat and mouse is on.
Levy is terrific as woman at the center of a love triangle who so desperately wants to escape her horrible home life that she’s willing to do whatever’s necessary to get quick cash. ‘Money’ is the least likable, and least developed character, of the four leads. Zovatto does a good job of playing the rebellious degenerate vibe, but there’s really not much to the character. Minnette’s Alex is the only semi-sympathetic character in the film, but even he’s not someone you can really pull for given the fact it’s because of him the gang is able to break into homes and commit burglaries. Plus, he seems to be only motivated by unrequited love for Rocky which is a rather lame reason to be stealing from a blind veteran. Lang does a superb job of playing a blind man with Daredevil-ish abilities who quickly goes into fight mode when strangers intent on stealing his wealth invade his humble home.
Alvarez uses lengthy stretches of silence to heighten the tension and draw the audience into the hunt. The criminals often shrink against walls, holding their breath, and that action will be duplicated by those seated in comfy seats in darkened theaters. Don’t Breathe doesn’t resort to gimmicky jump scares and instead methodically (and realistically) goes about upping the suspense as it builds toward a heart-pounding third act culminating in an unexpected and near-perfect resolution.
MPAA Rating: R for terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references
Release Date: August 26, 2016
Running Time: 91 minutes