Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Stars: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette
Fede Alvarez has created a simple, nerve shredding, thriller of an experience with the appropriately titled Don’t Breathe. Focusing on the nefarious activities of three young burglars as they attempt to rob a blind, war veteran of a reported hidden fortune he received following the death of his daughter. What should be the easiest robbery there is turns to disaster and things don’t play out as intended.
The film begins promisingly, from an aesthetic point at least, with a stunning, if not slightly unnerving overhead pan down to a man dragging an unconscious woman by the hair up an abandoned street. From a story perspective, however, the opening half hour isn’t quite so promising, as it tries to flesh out the motivations of the three burglars; Rocky (Jane Levy); Alex (Daniel Zovatto); Money (Dylan Minette) and the early foundations of the robbery. Rocky has the biggest motivation to pursue the potentially lucrative robbery, with a young sister to look after and living out a miserable existence with two idiotic parental figures; whilst Alex, the son of a respected police officer, has the least. Meanwhile, Money, the main architect behind the robbing of the blind man, is mouthy, a wannabe gangster, and if truth be told, a bit of a dick.
Thankfully, the pace steps up nicely once the story moves beyond the fairly short character development and brazen stakeout scene. The stakeout whilst offering nothing of any real note to the overall story, does do an effective job of highlighting the sheer isolation the blind man finds himself living in, with the entire neighbourhood appearing abandoned and badly run down. The trio make their move on the house in the dead of night, why they thought this would be necessary when robbing a blind man living in isolation is still something of a mystery, but nonetheless they did and almost immediately they meet the first of many obstacles in the form of the mans menacing Rottweiler that’s lying in wait behind the gate. Money drugs the animal, but their progress is halted shortly afterwards with no obvious way inside. The vast majority of the windows are barred and the doors, including one to the basement, are securely locked. Rocky soon spots a window on the second floor and volunteers to climb through, which she does after some short bickering from an apprehensive Alex.
The whole tone of the film changes the moment she enters the house. Alvarez cranks the tension up instantaneously, with small noises such as glass shards hitting the floor becoming excruciatingly loud. This brooding tension only increases when the blind man (Stephen Lang), who somehow avoided being knocked out by gas released into his room, appears downstairs after the idiotic Money ignores the others pleas and needlessly fired a gun. The next scene plays out as a sort of microcosm of the story in general, when Money completely underestimates the hardened war veteran, fails in a pathetic attempt to intimidate him with the gun and then gets choked out and shot dead for his troubles. A horrified Rocky, standing nearby and at this point still undetected, has to hold in her emotions and makes a retreat to the adjacent closet, whilst Alex, who earlier left in disgust at Money’s attitude, foolishly decides to re-enter the house.
What’s plays out next is a deadly game of cat and mouse between the remaining intruders and the increasingly enraged blind man. There’s so many painfully, claustrophobic moments of silence and tension throughout involving Rocky and Alex narrowly avoiding detection or death whilst sharing tight spaces with their pursuer. There’s also a multitude of different twists and shocks, including a disturbing, gruesome one involving a baster that I’d rather not reveal in too much detail. These are extremely effective in completely changing the dynamic of the story and who you’re rooting for or against. There’s also an abundance of fake-outs, where the two intruders look home and dry, but then get pulled right back into the little house of horrors, sometimes literally, for more terrifying ordeals. And my god that scene with Rocky and the Rottweiler inside the crawl space made my toes curl in a moment of sheer unadulterated panic.
Lang is outstanding in this film and streets ahead of his co-stars as the blind man. Don’t Breathe isn’t particularly dialogue heavy and the little present within isn’t going to win any awards. In complete contrast to Patrick Stewart’s masterful colloquial performance as the villain in the genre sharing Green Room, Lang has to rely solely on his lean, brawny, physical attributes and an extremely unsettling presence to flesh out his menacing villain. And he manages to do this extremely well. The only real standout from the rest of the cast is Jane Levy, who shares the biggest chunk of screen time with Lang and puts in a decent enough performance. I’m going to go ahead and give a shoutout to that Rottweiler too, who genuinely performed better than Dylan Minette’s Money.
I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Breathe, but it’s certainly not without its faults. As previously mentioned; the film is slow to start, especially in the first half hour; it’s extremely sparse on meaningful dialogue; the burglars are cartoonishly basic in their motivations, with little to no development as the story progresses and the blind man transforms into an almost supernatural, Michael Myers-esque character as the film enters the final act. The latter was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of an otherwise fun, realistic and highly enjoyable horror.