Director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) re-teams with his feature debut’s co-writer Rodo Sayagues for a devilishly efficient, sharply-filmed and terrifically acted little thriller that continues to prove the horror genre’s dominance of summer 2016, climbing over the corpses of so many disappointing big-budget tentpoles.
Youngsters Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) make a living from breaking into homes and stealing the prized wares inside. Their latest gig involves robbing the home of a blind Army veteran (Stephen Lang) living in Detroit who keeps a $300,000 cash settlement stored in a safe. However, upon attempting to carry out what they think will be a fast in-and-out burglary, they face greater resistance from the old man than expected.
Don’t Breathe is a movie that, for the most part, has great respect for its audience; it clocks in at a lean, fat-free 88 minutes, and shirks many of the irritating pitfalls that so frequently plague the genre. Characters for the most part behave on the right side of plausible during this claustrophobic cat-and-mouse game, even as the film ratchets up its own twisted insanity the longer it goes on.
For about half its run-time, this is a fairly grounded, gritty thriller that doesn’t seem about much more than a terrorised old man chasing three punks around his home, but by the mid-way point, things take a demented turn towards the more cartoonish, yet Alvarez commits so fervently to this vision that, for the most part, it really works.
Some suspension of disbelief is certainly required to buy into some of the more depraved aspects of the third act in particular, and a spoilerific in media res opening needlessly drains the film of a good portion of its suspense, but thanks to exceptional technical work – namely Pedro Luque’s silky smooth cinematography and a butthole-clenching emphasis on sound – and superior performances, it’s still fiercely engaging stuff.
Levy, who previously worked with Alvarez on Evil Dead, continues to carve out a solid rep for herself as not merely a “scream Queen” but a terrific dramatic actress in her own right, even if it’s Lang, a massively under-appreciated character actor, who runs away with the pic basically any time he’s on screen. It’s fair to say that once the curtain goes up, audiences will be heavily divided on almost every character, with sympathy in short supply all-around.
Brutal and vicious but crucially including lashings of pitch black humour, Don’t Breathe is one of the year’s most effective genre exercises, touting a neat concept but elevating it above mere gimmickry thanks to an enormously talented cast and crew. If Alvarez continues on this tenor, he’s carving out an excellent career for himself as a reliable purveyor of perverse entertainment.
Don’t Breathe is in cinemas now