Many people gawked at the remake to The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi’s influential no-budget horror classic seemed too lightening-in-a-bottle to work as a remake. But in the hands of first-time filmmaker Fede Alvarez, 2013’s Evil Dead proved itself a worthy reboot. However there were some who criticise the film for its shock and gore so in response, Alvarez’ follow-on was to be an original piece, focusing more on the tension than the gore and terrify the audience rather than sicken them. Don’t Breathe is that response.
Set in Detroit the film finds three twenty-somethings, Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and best friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), all robbing rich-folk, using Alex’s dad’s job as a security installer to bypass the alarm systems. With Rocky and Money planning on leaving for California with Rocky’s sister Diddy soon, they decide on one last heist that’ll set them for leaving. Their choice of target is a blind, elderly veteran (Stephen Lang) who recently lost his daughter to vehicular manslaughter. The driver who killed her was from a rich family who paid him off in exchange for avoiding court. Figuring that The Blind Man would have the money at home, the three of them wait until night and break-in.
I won’t go any further because while this initially starts as Home Invasion Gone Wrong, it’s actually a lot deeper and as soon as you realise the twist to The Blind Man, the film takes on a whole new angle of moral ambiguity. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s the best subvert of the genre we’ve had in years and helps set the film apart. At a lean 88 minutes there isn’t a huge deal of story, but the execution is damn near perfect to pull off what it has to offer.
The cast was fairly limited to just the three main leads. Zovatto does a good job as Money, proving himself to be a dick but a dick with principles. The focus on the small cast kept the film from needing to go outside of the house, and the premise didn’t afford any side characters so putting the lead trip front and centre kept them in the spotlight for the full duration.
Strange as it might seem to be rooting for a pair of small-time crooks, the way Alvarez and co. write the duo lends itself well to making them both feel genuine. Rocky is from a troubled background, an abandoned father and a neglectful mother has her looking for any escape option for her and her sister. Stealing might not be glamorous but it’s the quickest way she can get out. There is an intelligence to Rocky that she might not even realise she has, managing to keep her cool when faced with a loaded weapon. Levy’s ability to make Rocky this smart, resourceful young woman is why she’s able to lead a film like this. Alex meanwhile gives the film its voice of reason. It’s clear that he holds a torch for Rocky and that most likely is why he’s even helping her to begin with. Where Rocky’s background is an emotional wreck, Alex seems to have a fine upbringing. It makes him the most normal out of the group, but also allows him to think more clearly as opposed to Rocky’s on-the-fly thought process and keep her grounded in reality. The real standout though is The Blind Man. This is a classic genre performance in the making and Lang kills it. He creates this almost mythical quality to the character. The sheer viciousness that he uses make him one of the genre’s best creations of the decade. Lang is phenomenal and does an incredible job at building layers to the character and why he is the way he is.
As mentioned, the film is directed by Fede Alvarez who starts the film off slow but builds and builds and builds until the intensity is racked up to eleven, and Alvarez is refusing to take prisoners. It is incredible how easily he’s able to squeeze every last drop of fear out of his audience with the simplest of elements, primarily through sound, with every pin-drop forcing the viewers to tense up, waiting to see if The Blind Man has caught on yet. Yes, even breathing can get you killed
One brilliant stand-out moment comes when The Blind Man forces a blackout, giving Alvarex a chance to put him on home-turf. It’s a fantastic sequence filled with silent pursuits and enough close-shaves to make a barber tremble. Even that is just one standout scene in a film which doesn’t waste a second, Alvarez more than proves himself with his flick and shows that The Evil Dead was not a fluke. He has the ability to craft this tight, tense thriller, throwing back to old-school horrors while still offering something new to unnerve the audience.
Though judging by one particularly gross-out moment, he hasn’t totally left that shock value behind him.
2016 is already a solid year for horror movies and Don’t Breathe is another winner. Its simple premise allows it to expand into unexpected places. the main trio provide great work, with The Blind Man being one of the best villain roles for many years, and Alvarez’s taut, tension-filled direction keeping the audience on the edge for the full run-time.