Unsettling and terrific horror thriller.
How the hell did Rocky (Jane Levy) get herself into the dire situation that opens DON’T BREATHE?
Rocky, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) survive in Detroit by breaking into rich people’s houses and taking stuff. Rocky thinks she has a good reason. She has a young daughter and she is living with her alcoholic and/or tweaker mother and Mom’s much younger boyfriend. Money is into it for the thrill and Alex is along because he has a crush on Rocky. When they get enough money selling stolen Rolexes they are going to move to California.
Alex’s unsuspecting father owns a security company. The houses they rob are all customers. Alex provides the security codes. The trio has been doing this for quite some time. They have the whole operation timed. Money is “the muscle” and can disarm an alarm with a device. Alex provides look-out and knows the law. He knows what the mandatory sentence is for misdemeanor larceny in Michigan. He knows that anything they steal valued at $20,000 or more is a felony. Alex cautions Money not to take cash.
Money’s “fence”, who pays him a few hundred bucks on a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner, gives him a tip. A blind military veteran (Stephen Lang) was awarded a large settlement by the family of the young woman who killed his daughter in a driving accident. The money is in the old guy’s house. After considering the fact that stealing money is not a misdemeanor, and Rocky and Money want one big payday, Alex agrees to rob the man.
The old man’s house is in an abandoned neighborhood. Having already done their “due diligence”, they have brought along meat laced with a sedative for the man’s mean Rottweiler.
Upon entering the house, the owner is indeed blind but he has become highly sensitive to sounds. As long as they don’t move or breathe too loud they find themselves face to face with the man. A heel touching down on a creaky wood floor panel and the man knows he has visitors. He knows every inch of his house and immediately starts boarding up windows and locking the intruders in the house. When the man shows how tough he is, Rocky and Alex run into the basement where they discover a nasty situation.
So Rocky, Money and Alex are thieves not only stealing from people but breaking things as they go through the houses. Money pees all over a rich person’s living room and breaks windows. How can we cheer for them? Why would we want them to survive with a backpack stocked with a blind man’s settlement money?
Rocky shows her steel. No matter how close the man gets to her and no matter what she has seen him do, she insists on getting into the safe and taking the blind man’s stash.
How are we going to care about these thieves? How can we cheer for them? The screenwriters, director Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, restore the audiences’ good will in their thieves by having them discover the blind man’s horrible secret.
Of course, some would say the man was highly original in his application of revenge and what follows makes sense – if you were applying his reasoning to his actions. As obtuse as this sounds, the twist in DON’T BREATHE is too clever to even hint at.
What I can say is the terror never lets up. They escape and get caught. They escape and get caught again. It never lets up. Then the dog revives. He’s angry and hungry.
The following cat-and-mouse game is very exciting and Alvarez keeps the horror and thrill endlessly mounting. This is Alvarez’s second feature film. The first was the well-received EVIL DEAD (2013). Born in Uruguay, Alvarez brings a foreigners’ sensibility to an American horror story. The design of the blind man’s house, by production designer Naaman Marshall, was artistically dilapidated.
The terrific scene-stealer is Stephen Lang. The only word to describe him in DON’T BREATHE is “menacing”. And when he does speak and explain himself, he wins your sympathy. Especially since you know all his cash has been taken and he’ll have no money for dog food.
Not being familiar with Alvarez’s work, I spent most of the time watching the movie between my 2 fingers and my Panama hat tipped forward for additional coverage.
DON’T BREATHE is this year’s IT FOLLOWS. With BLAIR WITCH and RINGS soon opening, we will see if Alvarez can hold the title. Right now DON’T BREATHE at first place.
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Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.