FILM REVIEW – DON’T BREATHE. With Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Emma Bercovici. Written by Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Rated R for terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references. 88 minutes.
Like “Green Room,” which opened earlier this year, DON’T BREATHE is a relentless thriller where a dangerous situation goes from bad to worse. The action is non-stop and once the main story is under way, you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and their friend Alex (Dylan Minette)–who has a not-so-secret crush on Rocky–are three young people who rob houses in Detroit. Alex’s father works for a security company which allows Alex to steal the pass codes for security systems. Looking for a big score, they learn of an old blind veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives alone in a conveniently deserted neighborhood and who got a big insurance settlement when his daughter was killed in an accident.
At that point you don’t want to know any more, because from the moment they reach the house there’s one twist and turn after another. Although there’s nothing too deep here in terms of theme or character, it becomes an exercise in what Alfred Hitchcock, who was known as the “Master of Suspense,” called “pure cinema.” With little dialogue, director Fede Alvarez (who co-wrote the script with Rodo Sayagues) takes us through the house as the three thieves and the blind man–who is not given a name–try to outwit and/or escape each other.
This is Alvarez’s second film after the 2013 remake of “Evil Dead,” and it’s a lot tighter. As they initially explore the house, his camera makes a point of showing us things that will prove to be important later in the film, even as there’s a surprise or two that seems to come out of left field. In fact, there’s at least one plot twist that seems implausible even under the circumstances, but at that point in the ride you’ll be hanging on tight and saving your questions for later.
Levy, who was in the “Evil Dead” remake, comes the closest to being handed a well-rounded character in that we understand her motivations. As is often the case in this kind of film, her character’s surival instincts kick in as the story progresses and the danger increases. The big surprise here is Stephen Lang, a renowned dramatic actor on stage and screen whose credits include roles in “Avatar,” “Gettysburg” and “Death of a Salesman.” He plays the grizzled vet with the same seriousness, angry at the audacity of the intrusion, and showing surprising resourcefulness in battling them. This is no cartoon adversary.
“Don’t Breathe” is an adrenaline rush of a film, a taut 88-minute thrill ride. It will be interesting to see if Alvarez chooses to tackle more demanding material in the future. For the moment, let’s just say that he’s learned how to grab an audience and not let go.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.