In 2013 director Fede Alvarez, in his feature directorial debut, took on the daunting task of remaking a true horror classic, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981). While not being a runaway smash success, Evil Dead (2013) was met with moderate praise from both critics and fans alike. Alvarez swapped the ratio of horror-to-comedy by opting to include more gore and less gags. Now in his sophomore project, Alvarez brings forth Don’t Breathe which, if you’ve seen any of the trailers or commercials, is most likely absent of gags altogether.
Life is hard for a trio of friends living in Detroit. So much so in fact that they feel the need to burglarize homes in order to just get by. There’s no good or understandable reasons to steal here, yet each attempts to rationalize their behaviors with sob stories. Rocky (Jane Levy) wants to raise enough money to where she can leave her dysfunctional home situation and move far away, like California. Money (Daniel Zovatto) is the ringleader of the crew and the boyfriend of Rocky. He lives for the life of crime. Then there’s Alex (Dylan Minnette) who is the odd outlier here. He doesn’t appear to be a bad person at heart and he isn’t part of a broken home. So what’s his motivation to do bad? Right from the onset there’s an obvious attraction to Rocky.
The team decides to go all in for “one last score” that should set them up for the foreseeable future. Their mark, a disabled war vet who lives alone and if the rumors are true, is sitting on a sizable settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit in which his daughter was killed in an accident. The blind homeowner (Stephen Lang) is far too tempting of a target to pass up. Temptation is the work of the devil, as they say. Welcome to Hell on Earth. Rocky, Money and Alex chose the wrong low hanging fruit in this particular case. Once things go wrong they go really wrong and the intensity skyrockets.
Fede Alvarez nails the tone of Don’t Breathe right from the start. The opening scene of the movie gives great insight as to what to expect from the homeowner. As pieces are put into place to set the table for the direction in which this horror thriller is headed, some patience is required to get everything rolling again. Once it does though, forget about thinking of heading out for a mid-movie concession visit. The story that Alvarez crafts is one that anyone can connect with. The events that transpire are so believable that it might make viewers think twice about the quiet guy down the street. Everything about Don’t Breathe is a marked improvement over Evil Dead (2013).
Having a small cast really puts the spotlight on each of the actors. Utilizing just four people for the majority of the movie means that having one weak link greatly decreases chances of success. I can happily state that there are no weak links with Don’t Breathe in that regard. It is utilitarianism at its finest. There’s nothing flashy about any of the actors but they all succeed in their respective roles. Jane Levy (ABC’s Suburgatory) provides the perfect blend of emotions needed for this type of character. She is really allowed to thrive, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise since she was also the star of Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013). They’ve both grown so much over the last three years and it shows in this piece of work. The other main actor that really brings this together is Stephen Lang (Avatar (2009)). Known simply as “The Blind Man” per IMDb, his intensity and downright creepiness will send chills down spines across the nation. Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps (2015)) and Daniel Zovatto (It Follows (2014)) round out the cast of the main four and each brings life (and maybe death) to their characters.
Don’t Breathe is a true treat for horror fans and should give them something to hitch their hopes to for the genre going forward. Things are kept short and sweet with only an 88 minute runtime while providing maximum entertainment during that time. Fede Alvarez is firmly planted on my “directors to watch list” and I suggest you do the same. Hopefully audiences make time for this because it isn’t a typical run of the mill, hey let’s touch on every cliché kind of movie. Even though there’s nothing really groundbreaking, Don’t Breathe feels fresh. Definitely check this one out in theaters and bring a friend, or two.