Don’t Breathe movie review: Fede Alvarez’s second feature is a remarkably skillful suspense thriller
Horror filmmaker Fede Alvarez avoids the fate of the sophomore curse with his second feature film, Don’t Breathe, which establishes the director of the 2013 remake of the iconic Evil Dead as the real deal when it comes to genre films that keep audiences on the edge of their dampened theater seats.
Co-written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, at only 88 minutes Don’t Breathe is not only meticulously paced but also remarkably clever in how it handles its characters and their motivations, and its audience and their expectations – titillating, but never quite letting either have exactly what they want.
But while laid out as a horror thriller, Don’t Breathe is really a love story. It’s about the things we do for love. It’s also about the choice between a wrong thing, a worse thing, and an evil thing.
Wrong side of the blighted city
A blighted and mostly abandoned contemporary Detroit Rock City is our setting, on the wrong side of its eight-mile divide. (In reality, Don’t Breathe was mostly shot in Hungary.)
Our heroes are young thieves. They break into the homes of the well-heeled using inside information provided by Alex (Dylan Minnette), who is mostly doing these crimes for love of Rocky (Jane Levy), even though she’s the girlfriend of Money (Daniel Zovatto) and is more or less oblivious to Alex’s affections.
The chump with a crush is a classic and always effective setup.
This time, the home they intend to invade is not a fancy mansion where the owners are away, but rather the single inhabited house in blocks of unpatrolled blight.
That’s the home of a blind Gulf War veteran whose only daughter was killed in a senseless drunk driving incident. And it’s said that the veteran has nearly a million dollars in insurance money somewhere in the house.
Alex is weary of both the mark and the circumstances, while Money is a pig and a thief who will go in whether Alex helps or not. Besides, Money will take Rocky with him.
Rocky, for her part, is highly motivated to get the stash of cash for reasons that involve her mother, who is a pig; her mother’s boyfriend, who is also a pig; and a baby sister whom she needs to take away from the pigs.
Things go awry for all – except the filmmaker
The blind vet whose home these thieves invade is played by veteran actor Stephen Lang, likely best known for his role as the rampaging Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s Avatar, hellbent on killing all things alien and blue in that movie and, likely, in its three upcoming sequels.
The guy Lang plays in Don’t Breathe is kinda like Col. Quaritch – only blind and much angrier and hellbent on killing the bastards who have broken into his house.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. This is the hook of the movie: Things don’t go as planned for anybody. Not for the three thieves, not for the angry blind vet, and definitely not for the audience watching it all – from the edge of their slightly dampened theater seats.
For co-writer and director Fede Alvarez, however, it all goes very well.
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Director: Fede Alvarez.
Screenplay: Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues.
Cast: Stephen Lang. Dylan Minnette. Jane Levy. Daniel Zovatto. Emma Bercovici. Franciska Töröcsik. Christian Zagia. Katia Bokor.
“Don’t Breathe Movie (2016) Review” endnotes
Stephen Lang and Dylan Minnette Don’t Breathe movie image: Screen Gems | Sony Pictures.
“Don’t Breathe Movie (2016) Review: Smart Horror” last updated in January 2022.