Review of “Don’t Breathe”

A gang of three young home burglars, Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) break into houses around Detroit protected by the security company for which Alex’s father works. Alex has access to the door keys and codes for the security systems so he can deactivate the alarms and the burglars can work at their leisure. Money takes all the stolen items to his fence Raul (Franciska Torocsik) but never gets much money for them. Money and Rocky have plans to move to California once they make enough cash. Alex intends to stay in Detroit with his dad. Raul tells Money about a house occupied by a single man whose daughter was killed when struck by a car. The family of the young woman driving the car paid a settlement of $300,000.00 to the man and it is somewhere inside his house. The trio surveils the house and sees the man (Stephen Lang), an Iraq War veteran blinded in battle, walking his big guard dog. Alex doesn’t like the idea of stealing from a blind man but eventually decides to help with the robbery. They drug the dog, putting it to sleep and break into the blind man’s home through a bathroom window as every other way in is either barred or has multiple locks. Once inside they begin searching for the blind man’s stash. Money sneaks into the blind man’s bedroom and sets off a gas that is supposed to knock him out. They can’t find the money but see a door that is bolted and padlocked. Thinking the cash is there, Money shots the lock and is about to open the door when the blind man shows up. Money threatens to shoot him, even firing a round into the ceiling, but the blind man is able to grab his gun and turn it towards Money. He asks if Money is alone and he says yes as Alex and Rocky stand motionless. The blind man then shoots Money, killing him. Rocky and Alex both wait for the blind man to leave and then scatter in different directions. The blind man is far more dangerous than anyone knew and he has secrets bigger than the cash he is willing to kill to protect.

“Don’t Breathe” is a variation on the haunted house horror movie. The home the trio of burglars invades is filled with dark secrets and a dangerous entity. The difference is this entity is alive, not supernatural in any way and has a seemingly clear purpose for its violence. It’s the kind of film “Stand Your Ground” law supporters will love…until about half way through when the real reason for the blind man’s killer instincts is revealed. Yes, there is a twist, it’s a big one and it really comes out of left field. What’s more, there’s a twist to the twist. “Don’t Breathe” is a disturbing film and it is also very good.

Stephen Lang is truly frightening as the blind man. He knows his house so well it doesn’t matter he can’t see. He knows every turn and stair step in his home, especially the basement and that comes into play during a particularly unnerving scene when the blind man turns off the power and the robbers are now locked in complete darkness. Lang’s character rarely speaks but when he does his voice is weary and broken. The blind man has lived through war, the loss of his sight and the death of his daughter (we never hear about the girl’s mother) and it has clearly taken a toll on his emotional health. He can kill without remorse and has ways to cover up his deed. Much like Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series, the blind man seems to be unstoppable.

While the rest of the main cast is good, their characters are drawn rather thinly. Daniel Zovatto’s Money is a gangsta wannabe with cornrowed hair and a bullying personality that covers up his cowardly nature. Dylan Minnette’s Alex is far too smart to be breaking into homes and could have a good future but his not-so-secret love for Rocky makes him ignore his better judgement.

Jane Levy’s Rocky is about the only character that is given much backstory and a personality that exceeds a desire for material wealth. Living with her abusive and neglectful mother, her mother’s latest live-in boyfriend and her little sister Diddy (Emma Bercovici), Rocky wants a better life away from a troubled past. Her father left when she was very young and her mother abused her for expressing any sadness over his absence, claiming it was Rocky’s fault he left. Now a young woman, Rocky has plans for her and Diddy, along with Money and Alex, to go to California for a new start. The chance for one last robbery and a massive payday to get away from Detroit and her past leads Rocky to take chances far beyond what she would normally leading inevitably to her encounter with the blind man. Their clash is like the unstoppable force encountering an immovable object.

“Don’t Breathe” is set primarily inside the blind man’s house and one particular sequence stuck with me. At one point, Alex, Rocky and the blind man are in the basement when the blind man throws the breaker and kills all the lights. Filmed with what looks like low-light cameras (but is probably some kind of digital filter), the audience sees only a smoky grey image of the sighted characters groping in the dark, their eyes wide trying to allow in any stray light while the blind man walks confidently around using various memorized landmarks, touching ceiling beams and feeling for the corners of shelves. As the camera moves away from a character, they blend into the grey background and quickly disappear. Rocky and Alex walk unaware towards the blind man and their possible death even as the audience sees the approaching danger. It’s a brief scene but one that caused the most tension within me.

The movie ignores some basic truths of walking around in an old house; namely, the floor creaks and door hinges squeak. Characters walk around the home in utter silence even through the floor creaks in other scenes when it is needed for the building of tension or starting an action scene. Nothing is louder at night than a loose floorboard in an old house. I live in an old house and I feel like I hear every pop, squeak and creak as the house cools from a hot day or my dog is walking around. I realize “Don’t Breathe” would only be about 30 minutes long if the footsteps of the intruders made as much noise as they should have but this still stuck out to me.

“Don’t Breathe” is rated R for language, disturbing content, sexual references, terror and violence. There are several bloody shootings, beatings and attempts to strangle in the course of the film. The sexual references are crude but brief. A scene late in the film that I can’t describe without ruining a major plot point is particularly disturbing and ends in a very gross way. Foul language is frequent in the first 30 minutes of the movie but there isn’t much dialog after that.

“Don’t Breathe” is appropriately named as there are times when the audience will be holding its collective breath waiting on what will happen next. Without the need for ghosts or demons, filmmaker Fede Alvarez has turned a typical home on a typical street into a house of horrors. The movie is minimalist scary fun with no obvious digital effects (although there are 3D artists in the credits) and an average man as just about the scariest monster in recent memory. Take some friends and enjoy their collective gasps as the story plays out. Just don’t talk to the screen through the whole movie like a woman in the showing I went to because that can get annoying very quickly.

“Don’t Breathe” gets five stars.

There’s only one new wide release movie out this week so I’ll be broadening out my options to include some recently released art house films. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Don’t Think Twice—

Hell or High Water—

The Light Between Oceans—

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