A group of young burglars break into the home of a blind war veteran and get more than they bargained for in Don’t Breathe, a nifty little B-movie thriller with horror overtones that represents a nice change of place at the multiplex.
This is the kind of movie we just don’t see in mainstream cinemas any more: small in scale, straightforward in story (though there is at least one terrific twist), and minus star power, it’s the kind of thing you might expect to find on VOD in 2016 – if you were able to find it at all.
But despite a small budget and lack of big names in the cast, Don’t Breathe is given the A-list treatment by director Fede Alvarez, who previously made the underrated, and spectacularly gruesome, remake of the Evil Dead a few years back.
In comparison, Don’t Breathe feels toned down – it isn’t nearly as violent (some scenes even feel edited for a lighter rating, though the movie received an R in the US) and the horror elements are purely psychological.
But it’s just as intense as the director’s earlier work.
Jane Levy – who made a memorable impression as the drug-addled Mia in that movie – stars here as Rocky, a girl from a troubled home looking for one big score so she can ditch Detroit and make for the greener pastures of California with her young sister.
Working with wannabe gangster boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and wannabe boyfriend Alex (Dylan Minette), she’s been looting local residences thanks to Alex’s father, who works for a security company but has some lax security on his home PC.
The trio has been keeping a low-profile – and keeping their returns low, in order to avoid crossing over into felony territory – but Money gets word of a big score that might be just what Rocky needs in order to finally leave town.
It’s the home of an Iraq War veteran (played by Stephen Lang, excellent here) who was blinded in combat, and won a big payout when an irresponsible driver killed his only daughter. The blind man lives alone, in an almost-deserted area of Detroit, and all the young robbers need to do is break in quietly, at night, when he’s asleep.
No spoilers, but Lang’s blind man isn’t as easy a target as first anticipated. And Don’t Breathe deserves a lot of credit for toying with our allegiance to either side in this dark and twisted tale.
Don’t Breathe is what you get when you take a simple premise like this and let the filmmakers run away with it; Alvarez’s work here reminded me a lot of David Fincher’s in Panic Room, a similar (mostly) one-house set where the director used a lot of tracking shots and other techniques to establish the location and help build tension.
Spatial awareness is a lost art in most hyper-active mainstream movies, but a necessity in something like this: we need to know the layout of the set, where characters are in relation to each other, and what options they have in order for the film to convey a genuine sense of tension.
And it’s an almost unquestionable success here. It may be small in scale and narrow in focus, but Don’t Breathe is as good as something like this gets, and a sign of better things to come in the career of its talented director.