*Fede Alvarez’s horror-thriller “Don’t Breathe” can be added to the list of films that college professors and journalists reference while exploring the psychology behind why people enjoy being frightened through scary movies. It’s a brilliant exercise in the largely one-setting, blind antagonist narrative.
The Sony Pictures project impressed at the weekend box office, bringing in an estimated $26.1 million in the U.S. and Canada — against a $9 million budget. Like many films of this breed, fans will appreciate it for highlighting certain fear triggers that have come to define the genre: survival instincts, fear of the dark, fear of animals who want to make a quick snack out of us.
The filmmakers are also acutely aware that if you want to leave an impression on this current digitally obsessed generation, then you better make them gag on a bit shock value.
Alvarez reunites with “Evil Dead” star Jane Levy on this precise horror-thriller that doesn’t waste time with setting up a plot that, for the most part, speaks to the human condition. Most of us have dreamed of winning the lottery, or coming into a lot of money somehow, so we can use it to escape whatever reality it is that bores or pains us. Now, most of us don’t commit crimes to fund our escape plans, but the three Detroit thieves in “Don’t Breathe,” Rocky (Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto), get their kicks by breaking into the houses of wealthy people.
Rocky wants to escape what she views as a dead end life, while Alex secretly pines for her to stay, and notice him. Money is about that life, so while hunting for their next big score, he gets word that a blind veteran (Stephen Lang) won a major cash settlement following the accidental death of his only child. The trio figure he’s an easy target, so they break into his secluded home in search for the cash. The fight for their lives is on once they realize what a tragic mistake they made in underestimating the blind old man who lives alone in an abandoned neighborhood.
Oh, wait — the blind, armed and dangerous Gulf War veteran is not alone. There’s a girl with a suspicious past bound and gagged in the basement, and when our trio of criminals learn who she is, and why she’s a prisoner — *No Spoilers* — but by this point, you feel just as claustrophobic as the desperate characters, so you’re not sure if you want them to help her escape or take advantage of that short window of opportunity they have to flee their own captivity.
Lang has been a fantastic character actor for decades, and this memorable performance leads up to a surprising climax that will toy with your morality.
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Alvarez previously noted how he set out to make a film specifically focused more on the suspense aspect rather than shock audiences through blood and gore — which he was heavily criticized for with “Evil Dead.”
Underlying it all are the discrepancies in criminal justice — which motivates the blind old man, and, in a way, has the “bad guy turn hero” who evades justice. Such a compelling plot makes “Don’t Breathe” all the more unsettling.
The film will certainly keep your heart racing and filled with tension until the last few frames — leaving you wondering if the filmmakers are setting us up for a sequel. If so, bring it!
“Don’t Breathe” is now playing in theaters nationwide.