Don't Breathe Movie Review
Written by Greg Fisher
Released by Sony Pictures
Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
2016, 88 minutes, Rated R
Stephen Lang as The Blind Man
Jane Levy as Rocky
Dylan Minnette as Alex
Daniel Zovatto as Money
Three young thieves think they have burglary all figured out. One procures keys to homes rented out by his father. One handles selling off the stolen goods to a fence. His girlfriend steals to make a better life for herself and her sister. They follow a strict policy – watch the houses to find the optimum time to break in. Never use weapons, and never steal more than $10,000 at any given time so that if they are caught, it will not be a felony. When they catch wind of a blind veteran who is the last remaining tenant of a vacant neighborhood, they begin to plan. When they find out that he has a $300,000 settlement he won when his daughter was killed in a car accident, they go for the score. What they don't realize is that sometimes things are much more difficult than they seem.
Fede Alvarez opens Don't Breathe with a wonderfully framed aerial shot of a rundown Detroit neighborhood. As the camera pans down, we see movement in the middle of the otherwise deserted street. The camera continues to glide until we see that this is a man, dragging lead actress Jane Levy down the road by her hair. This is not the beginning, because we cut to that immediately. Hopefully, it isn't the end.
Alvarez comes into this, his second major motion picture, backed again by wunderkind horror director and producer Sam Raimi. Despite the somewhat tepid reviews of his first film, a reimagining of Raimi's first film and eternal calling card The Evil Dead, Raimi seems to have faith enough to back him again. This was a wise choice, as Alvarez shines using his own idea and script.
It seems with almost every scene, Alvarez uses a meticulously placed establishing shot to create the sense of character not only from the actors, but with the city of Detroit itself. Without these, the audience would not see Rocky's full motivation to free her sister from this decaying hell. They wouldn't have the full understanding of just how desolate and alone the Blind Man's neighborhood is, and the squished, claustrophobic feel we get just looking at the outside of his decrepit house. If the outside is so bad, just think of what awaits them inside.
As the movie continues, it becomes clear that every single shot has a purpose, and it is rarely the one the audience expects. Rocky gently places her boots under the kitchen table as to not make noise. Alex lazily looks up at two skylights covered in leaves in the breakfast nook. The camera rises through the first story, shows a cramped space in between floors, then comes up to the Blind Man's room, where he has a shiny revolver tucked to the underside of his mattress. Every last shot is Chekhov's gun, and they will go off in the third act. Not content with establishing just his skill with visuals, Alvarez includes a bass driven riff through most of the movie that brings to mind the subtle use Ridley Scott made with a human heartbeat in Alien, letting the lub and dub set the audience on edge and increasing the tension dramatically without most of the audience even knowing why.
The cast should also be praised for keeping up with such a well-rounded and exciting script. Alvarez has brought Jane Levy along for the ride after she played lead in Evil Dead for him. As much as it appears that he is deadset on making her the next scream queen, using that title on her is a disservice to the nuance that she gives to the work. She says more with the twitch of a lip or shift of her eyes than most scream queens can manage with 33DD's and a well-honed scream. The audience is drawn to her, and roots for her to overcome the events and save her sister from her abusive mother. Dylan Minnette, whose star seems to be quickly on the rise, handles the trepidatious Alex with expert care. The boy knows he isn't the hero for Rocky, but knows he has to try. Stalwart and tough older guy Stephen Lang makes for a terrifying baddie as The Blind Man. His body looks like it is merely lashed together with muscle, sinew, and grief and he does little but howl in rage and torment through much of the movie. Lang has rarely met scenery that he doesn't treat like Bubble Yum, but it works like gangbusters here. He seems more animal than anything, and quickly moves from pathetic mourner to something akin to the Predator. The only glaring error in the movie is the character of Money. Daniel Zovatto does his best in the role, becoming a tougher version of Seth Green's character in Can't Hardly Wait. From his corn rows to the hideous line "Yo, that's my bitch in there!" he tries to embody the more urban side of Detroit. He is merely nothing more than a one-note character, and it seems contrived that a smart, independent girl like Rocky would date such a caricature.
This movie has certainly unseated Lights Out as the premiere scary film of 2016, and should have little problem holding that title through Christmas. It is a triumph over the lazier films in the genre, and a loud sounding off that Fede Alvarez has arrived on the scene.