Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto
The dreaded sophomore slump, a comment successful directors are trying to avoid with their second film. Director Fede Alvarez found his name at the top of the list for the tough task of rebooting the beloved 1981 horror film “The Evil Dead” after his short film “Panic Attack!” found YouTube success. The result for “Evil Dead” was a no-holds-barred gore show that was a fresh and terrifying tribute to the original film. Mr. Alvarez could have done anything he wanted at this point, he chose to stay within the genre and write an original screenplay. “Don’t Breathe” is an unexpected combination of a bunch of different genre inspirations, a film that is as familiar as it is unique.
Rocky (Jane Levy) is a thief. Her two friends Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are also thieves. They break into houses, steal valuables, and sell them to a dealer who trades the goods for cash. A big score comes their way, a score that will allow all them to find a better life. However, it requires them to steal from a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) living in an abandoned area of Detroit. The thieves decide that it’s worth the risk and they break into the blind man’s house. Unfortunately the thieves have chosen the wrong house and the wrong person to steal from. Their mistake reveals secrets that place the group into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
It’s a simple premise that twists and turns every last drop of potential from it. The home invasion angle and the wolf in sheep’s clothing angle play nicely against, and with, each other throughout the film. Some film fans will see influences from Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark”, a scene reminiscent of Lewis Teague’s “Cujo”, and touches of recent films like Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” and Dan Trachtenberg’s “10 Cloverfield Lane. While these are definite influences “Don’t Breathe” also feels very unique and confident of every move that it makes.
Moments of terror and tension are peaked effectively through subtle combinations of sound design and camera movements. The creaking sound of an old wood floor builds one of the best nerve-racking moments of the film. The twists, however contrived, change the direction of the film and add additional layers of dread to the structure. Mr. Alvarez does an exceptional job of crafting these moments throughout the film. While some may categorize these scares as cheap, they are never lazy and often times are completely earned and compliment the moments that have come before it. At one point the thieves are placed in the world of the blind man and within this darkness restraint is held until an exact, perfectly timed moment. You don’t see horror films do this too often.
Stephen Lang is very good in the role of the blind man; he is a character that must display an unsuspecting demeanor that turns into a figure of intimidation and control. Mr. Lang efficiently does this all through subtle mannerisms, and simple positions of posture and movement. Jane Levy is also good, making an unlikable character change enough that the viewer can provide a small amount of hope for her escape. Mrs. Levy is tough and ambitious throughout, giving her character more value than what defines her early on in the film.
“Don’t Breathe” is not without some minor missteps. There are some inconsistencies in editing and the characters are very unlikable for long amounts of time during the film. While this creates a nice dynamic in some parts during the film it also makes the viewer somewhat uncaring of them as well.
Still, “Don’t Breathe” is better than many of the familiar, typical offerings of this kind. This is largely attributed to the talents of Mr. Alvarez who is proving to be a growing master of terror.
4.00 out of 5.00