"must go faster") in favor of terrifying immobility. Don't Breathe, the taut and accomplished new chiller from Fede Alvarez, essentially extends this concept to feature-length. It's a horror movie that bottles the genre's rushing adrenaline and redirects it inward; here, rather than running away, the only way the characters can escape the monster is by being very, very quiet.
That monster—the film's tyrannosaur, if you will—is Stephen Lang, the
grizzled television actor who briefly lit up the big screen in 2009,
with colorful parts in Public Enemies, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and (most memorably) Avatar. In the latter, he played a bloodthirsty warmonger named Miles Quaritch; his heavy in Don't Breathe makes Quaritch seem positively pacifistic.
Here, he portrays an unnamed, solitary Iraq war veteran who owns a
modest two-story home, a surly rottweiler, and an even surlier
disposition. As soon as you see him in the cold open dragging a bloody
body down a deserted street—an ill-advised flash-forward that dilutes
the movie's considerable tension—you can see the darkness in his soul.
But he can't see yours. The tantalizing hook of Don't Breathe is
that its villain isn't your run-of-the-mill slasher—he's a blind man.
He's also a mark for the movie's nominal heroes, a trio of teenagers
living in impoverished Detroit who moonlight as amateur thieves,
breaking into abandoned homes and stealing random valuables. (In this
sense, Don't Breathe recalls Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring,
if glimpsed through a cracked mirror.) They include Rocky (Jane Levy, a
dead ringer for Elisabeth Moss), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto),
and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), whose father runs a security
company, granting them illicit access to keys for houses across the
neighborhood. Frustrated with the crew's meager scores—Alex insists that
they never steal currency and that they limit themselves to ten
thousand dollars in goods to avoid exposure to a grand larceny
charge—Money perks up when he hears from his fence that some old guy in
town is sitting on nearly half a million in cash. A few days later,
these unsuspecting delinquents are at the blind man's door, Rocky
wriggling her way through an upstairs window before shutting off the
alarm. From there, it's just a matter of finding the loot without
disturbing the sleeping owner. I know you'll struggle to believe me, but
something goes wrong.
Which is fine. Alvarez's minimalist approach allows him to quickly get
to the good stuff, and once the burglars are in the house, he goes to
work. For such a gleefully nasty movie, there's a surprising degree of
elegance in his filmmaking; a single-take sequence where the camera
drifts through the blind man's house, tracking the various thieves as
they search its countless rooms, is a moment of inspired directorial
bravado. It's midnight madness by way of Robert Altman.
10 Cloverfield Lane),
but never where she's being chased by a rottweiler shimmying its way
after her. (That poor pooch deserves a raise; a scene where it attempts
to attack someone in a locked car is indecently nail-biting.) And while
every serial-killer flick features potential victims trying to hide from
a ruthless murderer, this is the first where someone does so by
flattening himself against a wall as his pursuer strides blindly past
In one of Don't Breathe's more iconic images, a character lies
sprawled unconscious atop a skylight, the glass beneath him slowly
beginning to crack under his weight. It's a moment that nicely summates
Alvarez's canny style, his ability to take a straightforward conceit and
stretch it to its breaking point. Don't Breathe finds variety
amid its terror—there's one legitimately jaw-dropping twist, and I
haven't even mentioned the diabolical turkey baster—but it's really just
about generating constant white-knuckle tension. I can envision
critiques regarding its lack of depth, but I advise those critics to
take after this movie's characters. In other words: hush.