“It’s kind of f**ked up to rob a blind man.”
Truer words have never been spoken. The blind come across as an easy target, and they may not be able to defend themselves or find what they lost. That is not the case, however, with Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe. The Blind Man, as the movie bills him, has more to him than meets the eye. What he lacks in vision, he makes up for in everything else (strength, hearing, etc.).
He’s a war veteran – wonderfully played by Stephen Lang – with a basement full of enough weaponry to protect himself from any punks that would think it be a great idea to break into his house and attempt to rob him. This is exactly what Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex, (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovato) plan to do.
But the thing is, the only knowledge the three friends have of the man is that he is blind; he’s a veteran; and he’s rich. His funds could help Rocky’s plan of fleeing Detroit with her young daughter in hopes of a better life. She and the others are just small time thieves – and they think this may be the easiest heist they’ll accomplish due to the man’s disability. Boy, are they wrong.
Following up his groovy and gruesome 2013 Evil Dead remake, Alvarez makes Don’t Breathe a nightmarish, claustrophobic thrill ride that will leave one breathless long after the credits role. Just thinking about it after seeing it a week ago is giving me chills.
From the minute the thieves break in, Alvarez injects a tension that doesn’t let up for the rest of the film. A brilliant tracking shot that follows from one character to the next had me not only intrigued by the true craftsmanship of Alvarez’s film, but it was also the starting point in which I felt my lungs completely shut down. Even though I kept telling myself to take a breath, I couldn’t.
Alvarez doesn’t clutter Don’t Breathe with unnecessary jump scares. Though there are certain moments in which things come around the corner unexpectedly, none of it feels cheap. His use of music is subdued and never overpowering. The same can be said about his use of sound. He knows that minimalism is really what scares people, and Don’t Breathe takes a simple concept; uses as little as possible; and becomes a nightmarish ride.
The scenarios in which the characters find themselves all feel true to life, including one that is shot with zero lighting while the camera captures it in night vision format. It’s just one of many heart-stopping moments in Alvarez’s film. The others you’ll have to witness for yourself.
There are several twists and turns in Don’t Breathe that take the film in a much more disturbing direction than one would initially expect. Alvarez has crafted an off-the-rails home invasion thriller that bends the genre in a completely different direction. Thieves, who are usually the antagonists, quickly become the helpless protagonists you want to see escape. The Blind Man – initially the victim – becomes the story’s central villain. The transition comes across smoothly, and never feels forced upon viewers.
Levy, Minnette, and Zovato are all solid in what they do here. But it’s Lang that steals the show in Don’t Breathe. One glance at him is enough to make someone not want to move in their seat. He’s a man of few words at first, and even when he’s given a lot more dialogue later on, his performance is still one of sheer terror.
Don’t Breathe is just the latest in the long line-up of strong horror genre releases from this year. People may look back on 2016, especially the summer season, and recall all the big-budgeted disappointments. But it’s the smaller stuff that’s been the most effective.
Alvarez came roaring into the spotlight with his Evil Dead remake. With Don’t Breathe, he’s once again proven that he’s a director to keep an eye on. Though familiar and simple in plotting, Alvarez uses it to his advantage – crafting an uncomfortable and unforgettable film. It’s one that’s not just aimed at horror fans, but also fans of quality filmmaking.