The concept of the ass kicking blind dude, underestimated by his opponents to their ultimate peril, is far from new. From Zatoichi to of course, Daredevil audiences tend to eat up this sort of overpowered underdog story and I don’t blame them, it’s a trope that makes a protagonist easy to sympathize with and root for. For those expecting more of this kind of action from Don’t Breathe, maybe you’ve been blinded yourself by the movie’s too on-the-nose marketing blitzkrieg. A twist midway through that I won’t dare spoil here elevates the tense, cat and mouse game at the heart of the film from enjoyable cliché to something truly unique and special.
Fede Alvarez, director of 2013’s brutally excellent, if somewhat forgotten (due in part to the acclaimed Starz series) Evil Dead remake, wins points early for making our visually impaired victim/hero’s assailants relatable. Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three teenaged thrill robbers who use the keys and alarm pass codes from Alex’s father’s security company to victimize his clients. Genial wannabe gangster Money catches wind of Stephen Lang’s character, known only as “The Blind Man”, a veteran and the lone survivor of an abandoned Detroit neighborhood who is apparently sitting on a multi hundred thousand dollar settlement (in cash no less) from his daughter’s vehicular homicide, ripe for the taking. Vanilla stick-in-the-mud Alex mulls the moral implications of targeting this disabled war hero but this job’s score could be Rocky and her younger sister’s ticket out of their white trash hellhole of a home life. So after some consternation, the game is afoot.
When things go pear shaped (like they always do), it’s Lang’s screen presence that sells the danger. Lang looks like he’s been spending just as much time in the gym as he has campaigning for the role of Cable in the Deadpool sequel, and the mountain of aged muscle he’s turned his body into really does look like something out of a comic book. The inherent creepiness of the disarray that a house would fall into if the person who lived there couldn’t see does a great job of ratcheting up tension as well, though the near post apocalyptic squalor of Lang’s Detroit dystopia may have been a bit much. I half expected Robocop to pull up and arrest the thieves at some point.
Production design and acting aside though, it’s the pacing that makes Don’t Breathe an instant classic, running at a near constant clip of twists, turns, fake outs, and well earned, non-cheap jump scares. There’s definitely a few cool effects shots in there as well, but the violence here is not at the forefront (unlike the puke-tastic joy of Alvarez’s ED), it doesn’t need to be to sell the inherent terror onscreen and the very real ramifications thereof. No wonder they confiscated cell phones at the screening we attended, concrete documentation of any one of its parade of shocks would spell doom for the maximum possible enjoyment of this white knuckle roller coaster. Though I’m sure that won’t stop your usual crop of assholes from trying to ruin things for everyone else, so try to avoid that type of thing, if you can. So, horror fans: avoid spoilers, see it as soon as possible, and keep it to yourself, Don’t Breathe is definitely well deserving of its early buzz and has us salivating for what Fede Alvarez may pull out of his gore rotted sleeve next.
Don’t Breathe hits theaters this Friday (8/26)