A slickly constructed thriller, Don’t Breathe is a single-concept film that ekes every possible idea out of its premise. Three thieves break into the home of an old blind man, hoping to make off with a huge amount of cash they know he’s got squirrelled away. Except of course, things aren’t quite that simple.
What we essentially have here is an inversion of Audrey Hepburn’s 1967 film, Wait Until Dark, where she played a blind woman traumatised by a trio of thieves. By switching the protagonist/antagonist roles, Don’t Breathe has its work cut out from the get-go: how do you make us sympathise with a bunch of people robbing a blind man?
The answer is: with a couple of stunted yet effective scenes explaining why these are “good” criminals. In this regard, Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues’ screenplay does just enough in that regard. The second step is to, well, cast Stephen Lang as the blind guy. And if you’ve seen Stephen Lang in action before (The Hard Way, Avatar, ‘Terra Nova’), you’ll realise he isn’t known for doing “helpless”.
Jane Levy plays Rocky, having also been in writer/director Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake. Together with Dylan Minnette as Alex, she manages to walk that line as credible thief yet likable rogue. Daniel Zovatto plays Money, the no-hoper of the trio, and it’s at this point you realise how similar this setup is to Panic Room.
Alvarez utilises a lot of the tools that David Fincher did in his home invasion movie, including having the camera track through the house with the aid of some digital trickery, so that we understand the layout before the action gets started. As I said at the top of the review, this is one classy-looking thriller. The cinematography and editing is incredible, whilst I was constantly impressed at the ease with which the film utilised low light levels.
As a thriller, Don’t Breathe hits beat after beat. There are a couple of setup/payoff moments that I didn’t see coming, and the characters are clever, rather than simple horror movie fodder. Of course it’s all a bit silly, but there are so many great tension-and-release moments that I wasn’t bothered. Until the screenplay takes things too far, that is. A last-minute sidestep into exploitation territory feels downright offensive, and it wasn’t something the film was crying out for. Even if it only threatens to go down that path (rather than actually doing it) it still soured the experience for me.
This is probably the best home invasion movie since Panic Room, though it is relentlessly brutal in its approach. It’s not gory as such, but there is a lot of inferred violence, so make sure you’re up for it beforehand.Rating: