Sony’s Screen Gems scored a bona fide box office hit with Fede Alvarez’s home invasion thriller, Don’t Breathe. Opening in late August of 2016 following a well-received premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival, the near ten million budgeted feature has scored over one hundred and fifty million dollars worldwide to date. Alvarez, who became an immediate genre fixture following his debut, the 2013 retooling of the Sam Raimi classic Evil Dead, revitalizes the dread and anxiety of the home invasion thriller for his latest effort, a film which utilizes familiar tropes to upend and suspend expectations. Efficiently paced and appropriately characterized, despite some illogical instances which can have the ability to distract from the overall potency (especially on a rewatch), Alvarez proves to be one of the most promising genre voices working in the flagging residue of American genre cinema.
Wasting away their youth while most of their peers have picked up and left, Detroit twentysomethings Rocky (Jane Levy), her scornful boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and third wheel Alex (Dylan Minnette) form a ragtag trio of burglars, breaking into homes of customers utilizing Alex’s father’s security company. While Alex is reluctantly complicit because it allows him to nurse a longstanding crush for Rocky, his friends seem intent on hitting a big payload and skipping town, something they’ve made plans to do without him. When Money suggests hitting the home of a blind veteran (Stephen Lang), a man who received a fortune after a fatal car accident claimed the life of his only daughter, Alex gets cold feet. When his friends decide to make a move without his help, Alex tags along at the last minute, but neither of them expects the greeting they receive.
Alvarez captures a unique cross section of dire economic straits, a gone-to-seed Detroit where humans exist as if the rest of their capitalistic society has abandoned them. In many ways, Alvarez succeeds with nailing the portraiture of this financially bedeviled region much better than Ryan Gosling’s fantastical dark fairy tale, Lost River (2014), channeling instead the lurking greed of Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1992), another film focused on desperate youth attempting to reclaim agency by preying on those graced by privilege. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues play with expectations of saintliness, the miscreants daring to rob none other than a blinded war veteran, a man who is also exceptionally well preserved considering his condition. A milky eyed Stephen Lang is superb here, a man for whom our automatic implicit sympathy quickly dissipates once several secrets are revealed, which are perniciously macabre.
Even with a breakneck, efficient narrative, Don’t Breathe asserts believability as well as an effective composite of desperate twentysomethings and their motivations. Alvarez leaves most of the heavy lifting to Jane Levy, whose likeable Rocky is an interesting reversal of woman-in-peril clichés. If together Levy and Dylan Minnette seem a bit too rosy-cheeked for young adults well into moral stagnation, such minor details are quickly usurped by the intense claustrophobic standoff, with Lang leveling the visual playing field (not unlike a classic move from the blind Audrey Hepburn in 1967’s Wait Until Dark). But much of the film’s expertly hewn success is due to the significant sound/ production design (Naaman Marshall, who was responsible for the similarly set The Visit from M. Night Shyamalan), while DP Pedro Luque (the Uruguayan cinematographer who lensed the original single shot thriller Silent House, 2010) roves restlessly through the dense labyrinth of a dismal trap house.
Those who appreciate the nearly extinct art of the scare should revel in Alvarez’s inventive and satisfying sophomore film, as Don’t Breathe is twisted, intense, and defies expectations. If you’ve been waiting for a thriller to make you squirm, it’s this.
Sony dresses up its hit title with a variety of extra features which will undoubtedly be perused by fans wanting more of the film’s effective ambience. Presented in high definition 2.40:1, this is a solid presentation of a title for home video release (although the effectiveness of being immersed in its pronounced sound design within the confines of a dark theater cannot be surpassed). Alvarez provides optional audio commentary alongside co-writer Rodo Sayagues and actor Stephen Lang.
8 Deleted Scenes:
Eight deleted scenes, amounting to just over fifteen minutes of screen time, have been included on this release.
A three minute segment includes brief commentary about the visual style from Fede Alvarez and DP Pedro Luque.
Creating the Creepy House:
The near four minute extra finds the production designer, as well as cast and crew, discussing the creation of capturing the interior and exterior look of the film’s creepy house.
Meet the Cast:
Main cast members discuss their characters and working relationship with Fede Alvarez on set in this four minute feature.
Man in the Dark:
This three minute bit focuses on Stephen Lang’s character, who the actor approached as characterizing an urban legend.
The Sounds of Horror:
Composer Roque Banos is on hand in this brief segment on the creation of the film’s score.
If you think the formulaic cliché of the home invasion thriller has been exhausted, Fede Alvarez proves otherwise with the masterful and vibrantly presented Don’t Breathe.
Film Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆