Don’t Breathe is one of those movies where I saw the trailer and went immediately from “never heard of it” to “Well, guess I’m going to see that opening weekend.” It helped even further when I found out afterward that the director/co-writer is Fede Alvarez, who pulled off the impossible in 2013 when he directed an Evil Dead remake that was generally well liked. Or at least wasn’t widely hated, which is still a very admirable accomplishment. With this movie as a follow-up, it’s clear this dude knows what’s he doing.
So in Don’t Breathe we got these three “teens” (the main guy looks like he’s pushing thirty) who earn money by robbing houses that are over seen by one of their dads’ security companies. This allows them entry and once in, they have a series of rules they follow, like no stealing cash or not taking more than $10,000 worth of stuff. Rocky (Jane Levy, also the lead in The Evil Dead) is doing this so she can take her little sister and move to California, away from her abusive parents whose brief appearance feels straight out of a Rob Zombie movie. Alex (Dylan Minette) is doing it because he’s in love with Rocky, and Money (Daniel Zavotto) is doing it because he is seemingly a giant piece of shit.
It's a risky move to have three criminals as your lead characters since you already have an uphill battle getting the audience to care about them. It’s easy enough to get behind Rocky since even the brief glimpse you get into her home life makes it clear she needs to get the hell out of there. They do devote a little screen time to showing how conflicted Alex is about the whole thing and Money, well I don’t think you’re supposed to like that asshole so it’s ok that I always found him to be a burning trash pile of a human being. The limited time they have for character building before the shit hits the fan is used effectively, which is good because once things get going, they never pause for further character beats. None of the characters take a moment to give an emotional speech about their background or relate what’s going on here to some tragedy in their past. Nope, it’s just 100% running away from a crazy blind guy.
Oh right, the premise of the movie. So these three teens figure if they rob this blind veteran it will be an easy pay day. They are bold enough to even do the robbery while the guy is still home asleep. The one thing they didn’t expect though is this blind guy is hyper capable and is super cool with murder. So he locks the teens in the house and now they have to find a way to get out, preferably with the money they came to steal to begin with.
Don’t Breathe focuses more on tension than jump scares, with much of the movie shrouded in silence as the characters quietly maneuver their environment, trying desperately not to alert The Blind Man, who for the record is never given an actual name. The movie makes it clear early that it’s willing to go to dark and unexpected places, so you never feel like any of the characters are untouchable which adds a tremendous amount of suspense. Keeping the action restricted to the house makes for a very constricting and claustrophobic environment as well, with Alvarez doing a remarkable job making the most of the location. One of my favourite sequences is during the initial break-in, as the camera pans around the house, following the characters as they perform their specific robbery duties, while also showing us all of the pieces (a gun taped under a bed, etc) that will come into play later.
The acting is solid across the board, with Levy being the highlight. She takes a character who dips her toe into the realm of being unlikeable and makes her remarkably easy to root for. Stephen Lang is perfectly menacing as The Blind Man, using his physicality to sell the threat as the character very rarely speaks. I don’t feel that The Blind Man is the iconic horror villain some reviews have made him out to be, but he’s certainly an intriguing one and I liked that some elements of his back story remain a mystery even as this movie ends. You are given glimpses at things that aren’t fully explained, which I found made the character much more effective. It’s a movie that doesn’t necessarily leave itself open for a sequel, but it would make perfect sense to make one.
I don’t want to jump too deep into spoiler territory, but I want to at least vaguely address the third act of the film. That final chunk is going to divide a lot of people. Apparently it already is. I really want to say what happens but I will keep myself in check. Let’s just say I was completely on board with the complete insanity this part of the movie brings, while some say this is where the movie lost them. The Blind Man, and his dog, do become a little too uber competent in the end (one of the things I liked prior to this was that The Blind Man was very human and didn’t always have the upper hand) but I can’t help but respect the bold decision making that goes on here.
Don’t Breathe is a great finish to a mediocre Summer movie season, though between this and Lights Out, at least the horror genre has fared well. Don’t Breathe is in many ways the anti-Lights Out. Whereas that movie was more of a carnival spook show, Don’t Breathe aims to get under your skin and provide chills over “AHHHH OH MY GOD A LOUD NOISE” scares. I can’t wait to see if Alvarez’s streak continues.