US | 2016 | Directed by Fede Alvarez
Logline: A trio of young burglars break into the house of a blind man who they suspect is hoarding a fortune in cash, only to discover he isn’t quire the invalid they anticipated.
In the follow-up to his excellent Evil Dead re-imagining the South American director teams up again with screenwriter Rodo Sayagues for an original take on the Wait Until Dark premise. The result is a superbly-paced, brutal thriller with a horror streak that kicks in during the second half. Alvarez is a talented director in terms of his handling of suspense and mise-en-scene, but the screenplay is riddled with annoying inconsistencies and discrepancies.
Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) are experienced thieves, breaking into wealthy Detroit homes, and stealing jewellery, expensive apparel, and cash, when they can find it, and they have no qualms about trashing the homes they burglarise. Rocky comes from a less-than-ideal home environment, with a white trash mother and boyfriend. She wants to take her kid sister and escape to a better life. She agrees to take part in once last robbery.
They get a tip-off on a loner (Stephen Lang) living in a desolate part of the city who is apparently sitting on a load of cash. Sounds like the perfect crime is waiting for them to perpetrate. Scoping the man’s house they see that he’s blind and has a big brutish dog. All the other homes in the street are derelict. They wait until nightfall to drug the dog, infiltrate the house, drug the owner, and locate the safe. Everything seems to be running smoothly.
Of course, everything quickly goes pear-shaped, and the three teenagers find themselves at the mercy of a war veteran with more than his fair share of wounds, and perhaps a few skeletons in his closet. It’s gonna be a long night.
Whereas Wait Until Dark focused on an innocent blind woman trying to survive a home invasion, Don’t Breathe focuses on several naive thieves trying to survive an experienced soldier defending his turf. You know what these young guys are doing is very wrong, but you can’t help but feel for them once the shit starts to hit the fan. Alvarez has fun with the cat-and-mouse game, and then ramps up the shock factor in the movie’s last half an hour. Belief needs to be suspended somewhat, but it’s certainly what gives Don’t Breathe the horror cajones.
Levy, who played Mia in Evil Dead, is fantastic in the central role, and certainly a talent to watch as her career takes off. Lang provides the perfect counterpoint, equally charismatic, but glazed and huge. Zovatto and Minnette are solid, but the movie definitely belongs to Levy and Lang.
Now as much as I enjoyed Don’t Breathe, and it’s easily one of the most effective cinematic thrillers of recent years, there were some very annoying holes in the writing. I can’t discuss them without revealing spoilers, suffice to say, they have bugged the hell out of me. One involves the capacities of what a blind man would be able to achieve, and the other involves inadequate police work. One is revealed early on in the movie and the other is revealed at movie’s end.
If there is a sequel, and let’s assume there will be one since the $10m movie has made close to $100m at the box office, then all belief will need to be suspended big time. If they don’t make a sequel, then the movie sits comfortably as a great exercise in suspense. Oh, and one other thing, I’m really not digging this trend for horror movies to be given pseudo-meta titles such as You’re Next, Don’t Breathe, and the upcoming Get Out. Sinister and Insidious were bad enough, but this is just flat out lazy.