It’s been three years since Fede Alvarez unleashed a stunning display of blood and brutality upon SXSW with Evil Dead, but he’s finally back with Don’t Breathe, another vicious piece that goes to new extremes.
The movie features Dylan Minnette as Alex, the son of a security company owner who often “borrows” his father’s keys to rob his clients with Rocky (Jane Levy) and her bad boy boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto). Initially they’re careful. They break into homes when the owners aren’t there and stick to stealing luxury items rather than cash to avoid larceny charges. However, when Money finds out that one of Alex’s dad’s clients scored a $300,000 settlement, he insists that they up their game and go for the money. Alex isn’t thrilled about it, but the homeowner is a blind army veteran. How hard could it be to sneak in and out?
The trio certainly has no idea what they’re walking into and it’s unlikely that any written description of what goes down in that house can truly reflect the intensity of the thrills and violence. If you’ve seen Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, it’s probably no surprise that the director doesn’t hold back. The Don’t Breathe narrative certainly doesn’t call for graphic, over the top deadite-style gore, but the more grounded nature of the brutality makes the material far more horrifying.
The man played by Stephen Lang might be blind, but that doesn’t mean he’s at a disadvantage. In fact, not only is his home fortified for such a robbery but if someone happens to get inside, he’s more than capable of tracking them down and killing them. Between Lang’s incredible physical performance and Alvarez’s haunting camerawork, the blind man quickly becomes downright nightmarish. He’s extremely strong, knows how to navigate the home more swiftly than visitors who can see where they’re going and has some very effective back-up, a snarling dog eager to go to great lengths to catch his targets. This isn’t a haunted house story, but Alvarez quickly establishes that Lang could be anywhere, turning the location into a deeply terrifying place where a threat could sneak up on you in a flash.
One of the most impressive things about Don’t Breathe is that the scenario never grows old. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues find clever new ways to up the suspense and shock viewers from start to finish. Standouts include a sequence that takes place in the dark and another that features Levy and the blind man’s dog, both of which benefit from Alvarez’s deft direction and camerawork.
Poor Jane Levy. Alvarez has put her through quite a bit between this and Evil Dead, but similar to their first collaboration she rises to the occasion big time in this. She and Minnette excel in the nasty fight sequences, but their performances are especially impressive because there’s so little dialogue in the film. When you’re sneaking around a blind man’s house, your only hope is to keep quiet, so both have to sell the fear through facial expressions and body language, and it turns out, that’s far more unnerving than incessant screaming.
Don’t Breathe’s only shortcoming is a missing plot point. Rocky’s got a rough life. We only get a single scene at her home, but it’s abundantly clear that her family is strapped for cash and her mother is abusive. She wants the money so that she can take off with her little sister and that’s a dream that’s easy to get behind. Alex, however, seems to be doing alright. His father owns a security company and we never see the two interact, so one can only assume that they have a decent relationship. That means his main motivation for agreeing to rob this man is because he has a crush on Rocky. That’s reasonable. Alex’s promise to run away with her, however, is never justified.
It’s unfortunate because that one flaw seems like it could have been a quick and easy fix, but Minnette and Levy have more than enough chemistry to keep you rooting for them to make it out of the house together. Plus, that missing detail quickly becomes a thing of the past because once they enter the house, the film is overwhelmingly intense. Don’t Breathe is a masterful combination of suspense and violence that’ll have you squirming in your seat and enjoying every minute of it.
Click here to catch up on all of our SXSW 2016 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below: