Three friends find themselves stalked by a blind man during an ill advised attempt to rob his house in Fede Alvarez’ Don’t Breathe.
On the surface the premise seems really simple and the film wastes no time in getting things moving. We are quickly introduced to the teenagers; Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). They make a modest living robbing local houses because Alex’s father works for a security company which gives him access to their alarm codes.
It starts to look like they’ve hit the perfect score when they learn of a blind man (Stephen Lang) who is sitting on a fortune. The appeal being that they might be able to get in and out undetected if they’re quiet enough even if he’s home. What they don’t bank on is that the blind man is ex military and has honed his senses to the point that he can be a real problem for them. What follows is basically a cat and mouse game as the hapless teens do their best to stay quiet so that he doesn’t find them.
The execution of this is exceptional. One thing the film does really well is take advantage of the setting. We see the attempt to break into the house and locate the money which doubles as a clever way to teach the viewer the layout of the house so that we know exactly where everything is and get a good look at the arena the bulk of the film takes place in.
Another thing that is done well is that extra effort is put in to showing the blind man -that’s all he is billed as- wandering around his house quickly to show us that he has intimate knowledge of his surroundings. On one side we have a small group of teenagers in over their heads and a blind opponent with insane skills who knows the surroundings better than they do without the benefit of his sight. It’s a great scenario and the film takes full advantage of it.
Tension is the order of the day in this scenario and the film is dripping with it. There are so many scenes where the teenagers cower into a small corner and try to muffle the sounds of their own breathing to conceal their location while the blind man tries to home in on them. It’s really edge of your seat, hold your breath stuff and it never gets old despite how often the film does this. The various rooms within the location feel distinct enough that they all feel like a brand new source of danger by themselves.
Stephen Lang absolutely nails it here. He has very little dialogue but as an unstoppable killing machine he’s absolutely perfect. It’s easy to believe that being caught by this guy won’t end well for anyone and there’s lots of implied pain in his history to make it feel like he has nothing to lose. He’s the perfect horror movie villain and it’s a smart plan to not give him much dialogue as it would only cheapen the military precision of his pursuit.
In general the film is fairly light on dialogue once it really gets going and it definitely works. The whole idea is that making a noise might result in death so having the teenagers sneak around the house as quietly as possible makes sense. Thankfully the film has plenty of visual polish to offset the lack of dialogue. Don’t Breathe shows you what’s going on rather than tells you and it benefits the overall experience.
There are some extra details given about his character that I could have done without as it makes him out to be a clear villain when the film had done so well at making the “hero” of this story ambiguous. Early on it’s not as simple as rooting for the teenagers as they are trying to rob this guy’s house but details revealed about Lang’s blind man make it easier to see him as a villain when it wasn’t necessary to do so.
Of the three teenagers we spend most time with Alex and Rocky and they come across as standard horror movie fodder for the most part. Both actors do a good job and the characters are written well enough to not do too many stupid things that justify their inevitable punishments. They react about as well as you might expect people to in this situation and the terror they are feeling comes across as being genuine enough.
One thing that doesn’t work quite so well is how the film ends. It feels like there are too many false endings that slow down the pace of the conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with how they are executed but the whole thing feels a few minutes longer than it really should be.
A tense and imaginative horror experience with a great premise and a terrifying villain. The use of the location combined with Stephen Lang’s imposing presence works really well and the whole thing is dripping with tension. There are some reveals about Lang’s character that weren’t really necessary and the film does have a few too many false endings but overall this is an edge of your seat horror experience that is definitely worth your time.
- Stephen Lang’s menacing presence
- the effective use of setting
- really tense and effective moments throughout
- unnecessary character reveals
- a few too many false endings