DON’T BREATHE (2016)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Stars: Jane Levy, Daniel Zovatto, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang
Released in UK cinemas 9th September by Sony Pictures
In 2013 director Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead was that rare thing, a remake of a horror classic that delivered some bonafide chills and fun. Now he returns to the genre with the eagerly anticipated Don’t Breathe.
It’s a comparatively simple story – Rocky (Jane Levy), dreams of escaping from life with her deadbeat mother and moving to California with her younger sister. To this end she has taken to burgling houses with her thuggish partner Money (Daniel Zovatto) and gentle friend, Alex (Dylan Minnette).
The group have an efficient system: Alex’s dad works for a home security firm, so Alex obtains house keys and insider info on how to bypass alarms. However, his reason for helping seems to be less about financial gain and more about aiding Rocky, for whom he clearly has feelings.
One day, Money hears about a potential score that could be enough to set the trio up for good. It involves a blind Gulf war vet (Avatar tough-guy Stephen Lang) who lives on a deserted street and received a hefty out of court settlement from a wealthy woman who accidentally killed his daughter. The man could have hundreds of thousands of dollars in his home.
Despite some initial misgivings about the ethics and legal repercussions, the group decide to proceed, drugging the man’s pet Rottweiler, then breaking into his home while he sleeps. However, once inside they soon come to realise that the dog isn’t the only ferocious animal in the house…
Let me jcut to the chase, as an exercise in sheer tension, Don’t Breathe is phenomenal. The plot isn’t particularly complex, and nor are the characters, but Alvarez’s skill at crafting genuine thrills and heart-stopping suspense set-pieces is so fantastic that they really don’t need to be.
The characterisation is handled admirably by the small but strong cast. Levy is a very sympathetic lead, all wide-eyed fear and earnestness, while Minnette is equally likeable as the intelligent, sensitive one compared with the loud, jockish Money. Zovatto also impresses and clearly has fun with the character — he’s the sort of dickhead that you love to hate.
However, as great as the three burglars are, it is Lang’s Blind Man that blew me away. Reading the description of the film, you could be forgiven for wondering how an older, visually impaired man could be a threat to three able-bodied youngsters less than half his age? Lang’s performance puts these doubts to rest. More physically imposing at 64 years of age than most men in their twenties, he brings a fierce, snarling rage to the role that establishes him as a credible threat early on. Add in ‘home advantage’ for the character, plus the fact that the robbers are woefully unprepared dipsticks, and the playing-field is quickly levelled.
It’s a tough job to make a blind war vet mourning the loss of his daughter a villain, but Lang is a talented man and manages the task admirably. Beside the cast, the film has plenty of other strengths. It looks amazing, with a number of flashy camera tricks, while an interesting, oversaturated take on the familiar nightvision look for a pulse-pounding set-piece in a pitch-black basement is a real standout.
As simple as the plot may be, it still also manages to squeeze in some surprisingly sick and bleak twists. This is a story that goes to a very dark place… kudos to writers Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues for upping the stakes and intensity so deftly in the third act. What’s more, the pacing is absolutely flawless, the film never pausing for breath as it plunges us into a relentless series of suspenseful scenes.
Perhaps the only complaint I can level at the film is that, like the equally impressive Green Room, the marketing trying to pass this film off as as a straight up horror flick is not entirely honest — instead think of Don’t Breathe as an intense thriller.
But be that as it may, like Green Room, this is one of the best genre efforts I’ve caught this year. This is one film you need to see.