Writer: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Cast: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Running time: 88mins
What’s the story: In economically depressed Detroit, three thieves plan to break into the house of a local blind man, who they believe is stashing a small fortune. But, the old man, an Iraq war veteran, is a tougher opponent than they realise.
What’s the verdict: Fede Alvarez previous movie was the raw, bloody, surprisingly successful Evil Dead remake. Remember this before watching Don’t Breathe, because this thriller packs knockout horror punches.
A swooping opening shot provides an intriguing teaser of things to come before the film flashes back to introduce its trio of young ne’er do wells, mid-burglary. There’s Money (Zovatto), self-declared leader with a mean streak, Rocky (Levy) , looking for an escape route from a destructive home life for herself and her younger sister, and sad-eyed Alex (Minnette), more interested in Rocky than a life of crime.
Alvarez and fellow Evil Dead scribe Rodo Sayagues’ script is all sinew, no fat, weaving character background into the visuals rather than slowing down the story with exposition. Soon, the trio are plotting to break into the house of the unnamed Blind Man (Lang). Housed up in a rough Detroit neighbourhood, a huge wedge of apparently cash stashed somewhere inside; he looks an easy mark.
But, on this night, nothing is going to be easy. Something that Alvarez and Sayagues seem to take as their mantra. The Blind Man’s house is fittingly difficult to break into, the dark irony being it becomes nigh-on impossible to break out of when mayhem erupts.
And while as a director Alvarez riffs on David Fincher’s prowling virtual camera in Panic Room and cat and mouse games straight of the Audrey Hepburn chiller Wait Until Dark, there are also far darker movie connections. Wes Craven’s excellent social fairy-tale The People Under The Stairs can be felt in the walls, and other horror classics are evoked we’ll not reveal for fear of spoilers. Suffice to say Don’t Breathe’s mayhem runs red indeed.
What keeps the rapid fire surprises and twists compelling are the audience allegiances the film generates for all its characters. Sympathy comes easily for the blind man, but being able to feel for three young housebreakers is an achievement accomplished with deceptive ease.
Levy, Minnette and Zovatto hurl themselves into a physically demanding script, as does Lang in a largely wordless performance played as Jason Bourne meets Zatoichi. Whether sniffing the air, listening for tell-tale creaks, using his hands as eyes, or moving with an odd crab-like gait, he is a memorable creation
But, after an hour of fine work (Alvarez’s house here is as hostile as his Evil Dead cabin in the wood), Don’t Breathe stumbles in the third act. Remember that opening mention of horror punches? Alvarez unleashes a volley of them in the final twenty minutes as the story races into very dark shadows, arguably tipping its hand and outstaying its welcome. Logic also implodes, plot holes even The Blind Man could see start looming large.
Yet, Don’t Breathe (at times as much a command as a title) delivers sufficient thrills and chills to be a good rollicking Friday night cinema blast. And is there more here?
The Blind Man is an Iraq war veteran. Is his house an allegory for that tragedy? The three youngsters being a gung-ho American military racing into a conflict with an enemy they don’t understand, on unfamiliar terrain, with the naïve belief that their know-how and technology will secure them an easy victory?
It’s there as a theory if you want it. If not, enjoy an efficiently engineered exercise in placing your heart in your mouth for 88 minutes.
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