Three years after making his American debut directing the well-regarded remake of the horror classic Evil Dead, the Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez returns with a new nail-biter, Don’t Breathe. A home-invasion thriller, Don’t Breathe is an economical narrative that makes the most of its claustrophobic, almost-all-in-one-location shooting to heighten the film’s tension and frights. The breakneck pace indeed quickens the viewer’s pulse, although it comes at the expense of character depth and wholly original surprises.
Set in present-day Detroit, the film opens with a sequence that questionably foreshadows its ending, a ploy that backfires in terms of escalating the story’s overall suspense. Although it’s not exactly clear how things are going to end, it’s obvious from the get-go that the answer is: not well. Three young adults, each for different reasons, decide to rob the house of a blind veteran (Lang, in a near-wordless yet terrifyingly gripping performance), who is said to be harboring a fortune in his home that he received years ago in a legal settlement over the wrongful death of his daughter. The three thieves, who’ve already successfully completed several home burglaries, are Rocky (Levy, who also starred in Evil Dead), a young woman who wants to move to California and away from her dead-end life in run-down Detroit; Money (Zovatto), a hooligan who digs the adrenaline high of his crimes more than the profits; and Alex (Minnette), a young man motivated by his puppy-dog attraction to Rocky. The group gains entry for their break-ins through keys “borrowed” by Alex from his father’s home-security firm. None of them is an especially likable character, a quality enhanced by the fact that they’ve decided to rob a blind military vet (referred to in the credits only as “The Blind Man.”)
Once inside, the action becomes a nonstop back-and-forth through the multistoried house during which every close escape from the clutches of the Blind Man leads to another. It’s like a mandated catch-and-release program in which every advance is met with an unforeseen obstruction – that is, until the film’s surprising twist. (In retrospect, the invaders should have wondered what all the iron bars on the windows were keeping in, rather than out.) The story is helped by the fact that the Blind Man’s home is on a desolate, vacated street in Detroit, where there are no neighbors to hear any screams or gunshots. (However, it’s curious why the exterior view of the Blind Man’s home shows all the interior lights blazing brightly.)
More methodical than innovative, Don’t Breathe is nevertheless an effective suspenser. Brief (88 minutes) and prudently made, this film ought to haul in some of the easy bucks that remained out of the reach of its sorry protagonists.
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