Of all the senses, arguably the most important, and the toughest one to lose, would have to be the sense of sight. It’s the one we use to find our way around the world, the one that enables us to enjoy all the beauty and splendor that exists on the planet, and beyond, and the one which allows us to defend ourselves from the dangers that exist at every turn, sometimes even in our own homes. While many people are able to thrive without the gift of sight, and should be commended for doing so, they still are at a disadvantage when it comes to many aspects of everyday life, and must rely on their other senses to help even the playing field. Thus, we set the stage for the latest horror thriller to invade the darkness of theater screens this summer, Don’t Breathe.
Living in a broken down Detroit, where jobs are scarce, and life has little to offer, three young adults make ends meet as thieves, hoping to earn enough money to head West and start new lives. There’s Money (Daniel Zovatto), his girlfriend, Rocky (Jane Levy), and Alex (Dylan Minnette), who supplies entry codes and other useful information he’s able to gather thanks to his father’s job working at a home security outfit, unbeknownst to him. Getting a tip on a home where the owner (Stephen Lang), a war veteran, has received a tidy sum from a wrongful death suit where his daughter was killed in a hit-and-run, the three thieves embark on what they think will be an easy mark, even moreso when they learn the man has been rendered blind due to a war injury. However, despite their skills and expertise, and as prepared as they think they are, they soon discover they are up against a considerably more formidable adversary than they had anticipated, one who has some surprises in store, along with some shocking secrets.
“That’s kind of f*cked up to rob a blind guy, isn’t it?”
Don’t Breathe works as a suspenseful and scary horror film for a number of reasons. The premise is simple, yet effective – a group trapped in a closed environment, fighting to survive against an opponent who will do everything in his power to protect his home. The film comes from Uruguayan director, Fede Alvarez, who actually comes on the screen to offer an intro before the movie. He co-wrote the picture with Rodo Sayagues, and previously gave audiences the excellent, gory remake of Evil Dead in 2013. Here, Alvarez forgoes a lot of the blood and guts, and instead, opts for the power of darkness, when The Blind Man turns the tables on his foes by turning out the lights, and the tension that builds through silence, as the thieves attempt to avoid triggering The Blind Man’s most effective sense. Lighting and sound design are often essential to horror films, but it is especially true here. There are stretches with little to no dialogue, with the only sound being that of the popcorn you hesitate to munch amidst the silence.
What gives the film added depth is you’re not always sure whose side your on. On the one hand, you have a trio of criminals who are living in desperate economic situations who generally rob from those who can afford it. You particularly feel for Rocky (Jane Levy, who also starred in Alvarez’ Evil Dead), whose homelife is a mess, with an absentee father and a drunken mom who blames her for it. Rocky just wants to get out of Detroit and bring her younger sister with her to L.A. in search of a better life – it’s hard not to root for her. On the other hand, you have The Blind Man, who has lost practically everything, and who is merely trying to defend his home and his way of life, although we eventually learn more of what that entails and why he is so fiercely protective of his abode. Stephen Lang makes for a strong presence as The Blind Man, at once, sympathetic, as when we see that he falls asleep to videos of his deceased daughter playing, and, the next, fierce and fearsome when he pulls out all the stops against his home invaders. He clearly has some pent up rage due to his war experiences and from the loss of his daughter, and when he lets it out, he is a force to be reckoned with.
“Some things you can’t change no matter how unfair they are.”
Don’t Breathe shares some DNA with the 1967 Audrey Hepburn-starrer, Wait Until Dark, with the cat-and-mouse back and forth between the protagonists, but it adds layers and twists and turns to the premise of a blind person fighting off intruders. It is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that continues this most excellent and successful summer of horror, from sequels, The Conjuring 2 and The Purge: Election Year, to original fare, like The Shallows and Lights Out. Let’s hope it keeps up right through Halloween. In the meantime, don’t move, don’t even whisper, but definitely, don’t miss Don’t Breathe.
— review by Brian de Castro