This is the second film under the Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez’s belt. Following the pedestrian 2013 flick Evil Dead, he visibly steps up his game and hits pay dirt, bringing to the table an exercise in fright and a smartly contrived movie in the shape of Don’t Breathe.
It kicks off with a flash-forward as a long shot closing in on a man (whose face we don’t get to see as yet) dragging a girl’s body after him on this road at dusk. Thereupon we get to meet the central characters- a gang of two-bit, amateurish thieves looking for a quick buck. Money (Daniel Zovatto), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Rocky (played by Jane Levy). Their business is break-ins and house robbing on the well-to-do outskirts of Detroit. The fact that Alex’s father manages a security company makes breaking-in more of a walking-in. Making no bones about it, where Don’t Breathe falls flat is the character department. We don’t get to know them shy of at all. Money is Rocky’s boyfriend. He is the thug kind, smug and trying to look hard-boiled. Alex is the friendzoned guy, more on the tender side, and the more sensible guy of the two, reluctant to take certain scores when it comes to risk. Rocky is the sole character we get to care about a trifle. If when it comes to the backstory of the other two Fede Alvarez just can’t seem to find the time to give us a sense of what they are like as individuals behind the immediately obvious, he goes out of his way and lines up a couple of scenes that reveal Rocky and her motivations. Part of a dismal dysfunctional family, she is bent on leaving Detroit and this last score that Money found is her ticket to getting her little sister out of this miserable place and never look back. That isn’t to say that she is a minutely delineated, clear-cut personage, but this couple of scenes go a long way towards forging a bond between her and us. Her turning to theft is underlain by a strong need of security and a desperate wish to free herself from the existential rattrap she lives in, which beguiles us into paradoxically rooting for her. This big last score (“If we do this one we’ll never have to do it again”) that Money found and they all count on adds up to robbing the house of a blind, old man who following the death of his daughter in an accident got his hands on a vast amount of money. Everything sounds like a walk in the park but they soon come to realize they’re in something over their heads as the old man is no baby in the woods and not nearly over the hill.
If the story sounds rather hackneyed and the characters, with the exception of Rocky and the blind man, come over as transparent pawns devoid of personality for the most part, the soundtrack is another kettle of fish and fits to a T the tense vibe the movie’s seeking to convey. The filming technique is also another feather in the cap and along with the deftly structured sequence of events (Alvarez employs a couple of gorgeous twists and turns), it makes for a tight, unexpectedly and exhilaratingly intense, spine-tingling thriller and prompts us to overlook its deficiencies. Having said that, things seemed at times perhaps too conveniently arranged (e.g. the alarm remote) and thus gives happenstance too much room at the expense of causality. In the heat of the moment, nonetheless, we surely won’t get a chance to pick up on it. One thing though is plain to see, namely that Don’t Breathe has a good many chinks in the armor. With a first-rate performance, anyhow, on the part of Jane Levy and a memorable role played by Stephen Lang the movie has also a great deal to offer. If you’re beating the bushes for a chilling thriller, you give this one half a chance and you won’t be sorry.