Don’t Breathe is a lean, mean and nasty little thriller that has been one of the surprise sleeper hits of 2016. It stars Jane Levy as Rocky, a single mother who has a miserable life. Living with her has-been prostitute of a mother who never misses a beat to insult and berate Rocky, Rocky dreams of a day she can take her daughter and leave once and for all. So desperate is Rocky, she hooks up with Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). Alex’s father works security in the Detroit suburbs so he has keys and passcodes to the nicer homes. Ripe for the picking, they raid the homes, cash out the items from their fence and pocket their ill-gotten gains three ways. Money hears of a blind veteran (Stephan Lang) who lives in an almost abandon part of Detroit. Thinking this would be easy pickings, they decide to make him their next target.
Unbeknownst to the three, this blind veteran is anything but helpless or an easy target. The three find this out almost immediately when they break into the man’s home. What follows is anything but easy. I will stop there because there are so many twists and turns, none of which you will see coming unless you research the story online. Since this is a spoiler free review, I will not reveal anything else. But this is a superbly crafted thriller. Not flashy with a lot of snazzy visuals, Don’t Breathe is a very tough, gritty and unrelenting thriller best watched with surround sound. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to make sure they have all of the right elements to make this film work. The smallest details of sound design and the score by Roque Banos create a truly terrifying experience. Every little creak, squeak or noise is heard but is not overblown. You really get the sense you are in the house, right there as the action is unfolding. Mr. Banos’ musical score is scary enough, but it is also infused with ambient sounds of the house, too. which only enhances the creepiness of this story.
The real battle is between Rocky and The Blind Man, though. She is refusing to leave without what she came for and the Blind Man is not letting anyone out with anything. Don’t Breathe is a cat and mouse thriller that never lets up. It is a short film with a run time of about 85 minutes, but somehow seems cut together just right. It does not waste any time getting into the meat of this story which is survival. Don’t look for Shakespeare, here. This is a bare-bones thriller that is sharp, darkly comical and shocking. Jane Levy is terrific as Rocky. She knows what she is doing is very wrong, but she is desperate and needs a change of scenery as soon as possible. Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto are solid as her partners-in-crime, but the real story is between Rocky and the Blind Man. Wisely most of the film stays with those two characters and it works.
Director and co-screen writer Fede Alvarez is no stranger to the hardcore gore and violence. He worked with Ms. Levy in the remake of Evil Dead from 2013, a film I was not impressed with. It was too much and I say this as a man who has seen just about everything in films. It was not that bad of a film but it clearly missed the original intent of the campy classics it was based on. With Don’t Breathe, Alvarez has made his mark with a grisly, entertaining film that opens and closes with a furious story about a victim who is anything but and thieves who have met their match. Rodo Sayagues co-wrote the script with Alvarez (as they did with the Evil Dead remake) and it does a good job of fleshing out the characters of Rocky and the Blind Man so we know what motivates them. We might not agree with their actions, but we understand why they are the way they are. Stephen Lang is simply harrowing as The Blind Man. He nails it.
There are some very good deleted scenes involving Dylan Minnette, his father and Rocky that I wish had made their way into the final cut. They were cut because the director wanted to keep the pressure on, but it is too bad. Minnette is a fine actor and deserved a bit more development as the character of Alex. As it stands though, his screen time is decent but I wish he would have had some more time to develop. This aside, Don’t Breathe is a shocker in the true sense of the word; unrelenting, terrifying and one of the best horror films of the year. Yes, the sequel is in the works.
Don’t Breathe – ****1/2 stars out of 5
Don’t Breathe – Rated-R for strong gore, violence, harsh language and terrifying situations
Don’t Breathe – Run Time is 85 minutes
Don’t Breathe is now available on DVD, subscription services and On Demand.