The Less You Know...
If director Fede Alvarez’s revisit of Sam Raimi’s spooky old cabin in the deep, dark, twisted woods of rural America did something for you in 2013’s Evil Dead, then you need to know that Alvarez is finally back. This time with a creepy little home invasion thriller that flips the script on the genre and tells the story through the perspective of the criminals rather than the victims. As a result, Don’t Breathe brings a refreshingly different spin to an all too familiar story. Don’t Breathe is the story of a trio of ne’er-do-well teenagers that specializes in home invasion burglaries in the Detroit area. With the help of Alex’s (Dylan Minnette) connections to a home security company, he, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Rocky (Jane Levy) sneak into the clients’ homes, deactivate security systems and have their way with any valuables they can find.
As dumb as they are to think they can get away with it for very long, they are equally smart to take only enough loot to avoid grand larceny charges. Angsty Rocky dreams of a better life for herself and child in California, while careful Alex meticulously plans every detail, and rebel Money gets off on the power trip every heist brings. There’s not much to like in either of the protagonists, so it is actually quite refreshing when the tables get turned during their next “job.”
After discovering a house in a rundown neighborhood where an elderly man (Stephen Lang) lives, they decide this will be their final hit. One last job and they’re out. “If we do it right, we’ll never have to do it again” Rocky encourages. Their victim is a war veteran with a large stash of money -- the settlement from his daughter’s wrongful death in a vehicle accident. Oh, and he’s blind. Piece of cake, right? Wrong!
Things get out of hand almost right from the get-go. Once inside, a series of unfortunate circumstances traps the trio inside the house with the angry blind man -- the angry armed blind man -- stalking them from room to room. Keep in mind that as dangerous and inaccurate as a blind person with a gun might appear to be, the fact that his other senses are heightened to almost superpower levels, quickly reminds us exactly how appropriate the film’s title is. Terence Young’s classic 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark comes to mind.
From this point on, the tension gets ramped up to edge-of-your-seat levels as the white-knuckle game of cat-and-mouse throughout the claustrophobic confines of the house begins. Thinking that their best plan of escape would be the basement, the burglars make a gruesome discovery down there that shakes to the core any sympathetic character allegiances we might have formed. In what would typically spell doom for a film, there are no heroes here and there’s no one to root for. There are only bad people doing really, really bad stuff. But Alvarez shakes up the genre and somehow makes it all work.
As a testament to the whip-smart script Alvarez co-writes with Rodo Sayagues, we’ve flipped, flopped, then flipped back again from hating the bad guys for their unthinkable act of robbing a blind person, to rooting for their escape, to despising the blind man, then to being totally grossed out at the entire thing… all in the course of 90 minutes. Not to mention the fact that our nerves are a total wreck and our tolerance level of blood, gore, violence, and unspeakable atrocities have all been put to the ultimate test. This is one sick puppy, well deserving of its hard “R” rating, especially in a gag-inducing scene that that will likely go down as one for the ages. Definitely not date-night material, so don’t make that mistake.
The plot begins to approach ludicrous levels toward the end as there are more than a few inexplicables that we’re asked to simply ignore. But along the way we get clever little nods to many of the genre greats like Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, and the more recent It Follows. Even Stephen King’s Cujo is brought to mind more than once.
Hats off to the makers of the film’s trailer for not falling into the over-marketing trap of revealing too much. Don’t Breathe is a film to be experienced, rather than merely watched, so catch it in a theater, avoid the spoilers, and stay out of discussion forums. The less you know going in, the more you’ll enjoy the experience. You are better off going in, er, blind.
(Released by Screen Gems and rated “R” for terror, violence, disturbing content and language including sexual references.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.