Late teen Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and her best friend - who’d rather like to be more than that - Alex (Dylan Minnette) try to escape the poverty of their Detroit surroundings via burglary jobs. Money’s the stupid asshole one who’ll become a proper professional criminal one day, Rocky the most desperate to get money to be able to flee her terrible home life together with her little sister, and Alex is the thoughtful one more in it for Rocky than the money.
Their next heist just might give them the break that’ll provide Rocky and
Money with enough money to leave town - rather to the shock of Alex who is
clearly still hoping that Rocky will drop Money and notice and reciprocate his
own feelings for her. Their mark is the house of a blind war veteran living in a
dilapidated house in an otherwise uninhabited street. Supposedly, he has quite a
lot of money stashed away there with him. In fact it will turn out it’s even
more money than the trio could ever have expected.
However, the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is also rather more dangerous than
anyone would have expected. Making the situation more dangerous for everyone
involved is the little fact the he’s not just richer, but also a much worse guy
than any of the teen thieves could have imagined, harbouring a terrible secret
locked up in his cellar, a secret he’s all too willing to kill to protect. And
despite being blind, he’s more than capable when it comes to violence. Thanks to
the specific type of security his secret needs, the Blind Man’s house will be
rather more difficult to break out of than it was to break into.
Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe is pretty much a perfect thriller. Its
set up is simple, its plot escalates beautifully, regularly snatching victory
out of the characters’ hands in the worst possible way but without ever feeling
too predictable in the ways it does it. Even though the character constellation
sounds rather typical for this sort of affair, Alvarez makes the teen burglars
(well, perhaps not Money), characters who could have been insufferable in lesser
hands, three-dimensional and easy to root for without pretending they are better
than they actually are, all the better for the audience to sympathize with the
gauntlet of horrors they go through. At the same time, the piece’s villain does
have an actual motivation, just one that drives him to deeply twisted acts
compared to which a burglary truly is nothing of moral import. You get where
he’s coming from, and loathe where he’s going with it.
Alvarez handles nearly everything in the film (except for some too on the
nose metaphorical business about a lady bug, but that’s about a minute of film)
with the same thought and care, turning even his cruder ideas effectively
horrifying by not treating any of them as sleazy gimmicks, timing the sort of
fake-outs that make many a thriller look too constructed and built for effect
(which they of course are – a viewer shouldn’t notice that though) so well they
feel incredibly exciting. The camera work goes from gliding to jittery to
claustrophobic at the drop of a hat, further strengthening the intensity of the
Additionally, the film’s final third becomes remarkably horrific not through
blood and gore but because the film treats the basically grotesque truth of what
the Blind Man is up to with full seriousness. Alvarez is here certainly helped
selling it all through the strong performances of Levy and Lang.
It’s truly a perfect little film, one that literally (and I mean
literally) had me at the edge of my seat for much of its running time,
finally turning that particular cliché into truth.