For his second feature film, Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with Don’t Breathe, a relentless and harrowing story that shows us why some houses should never be ventured into. A bit like The People Under the Stairs meets Panic Room, the latest collaboration from Alvarez and Ghost House pummels its viewers (in a good way, of course) as much as it punishes its characters, and just when you think that things can’t possibly get any crazier, Don’t Breathe kicks things up a notch, creating a blisteringly fun thrill ride that’s a perfect showcase for Alvarez’s macabre cinematic sensibilities.
Don’t Breathe follows Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette), who burglarize wealthy homes around Detroit in hopes of escaping the economic woes that have long plagued the metropolitan area. Until now, they’ve always grabbed smaller items such as clothes and electronics, but the trio just aren’t making the money they need to get out properly. They’re tipped off about a house belonging to a blind Iraq War vet (Stephen Lang), who supposedly has a large sum of cash on his property due to an insurance settlement, and they decide he’s the perfect victim. How hard could it possibly be to fleece him and his home? As it turns out, it's pretty damned hard, as Rocky, Alex and Money soon discover that their intended burglary victim is a helluva lot more resourceful—and deranged—than they could have ever expected.
I knew practically nothing about Don’t Breathe going into it last night (it didn’t even have an announced title until its premiere) and I’m so glad because the film hit me repeatedly out of left field, making for a surprisingly vicious, but fun experience and I want to do my best to maintain that feeling for you guys too. Suffice to say, if you think Alvarez put Levy through her paces in 2013's Evil Dead, it almost feels like child’s play compared to what her character endures throughout Don’t Breathe.
The performances across the board are universally strong, with the aforementioned Levy delivering another kickass performance as the resourceful Rocky. There are some real emotionally-driven stakes for her character and what pushes her into this crime-filled existence, giving Levy a lot of opportunities to shine. Lang, probably best known these days for his work in Avatar, is a proverbial force of nature here, akin to Jaws with a beard. He’s ferocious, merciless, and has a few secrets of his own, making his character so savagely unpredictable and the perfect foil for Don’t Breathe. I do hope he gets more acting opportunities like this, because he’s simply fantastic. Minnette, who recently appeared in Goosebumps, is also fantastic in his latest effort, as Alex evolves into the moral compass of sorts for his merry band of thieves. His character’s dedication to Rocky is commendable and he has a beautiful chemistry with Levy throughout the film.
It’s also worth noting that two key elements which were crucial to the success of Don’t Breathe are the cinematography from Pedro Luque and the overall sound design, both adding so much to Alvarez’s latest project. There’s some really inventive camerawork on display throughout the movie and the way that sound becomes so integral to the narrative is downright masterful.
Unapologetically fierce, compelling and brutally tense, Don’t Breathe is an exemplary effort from Alvarez and all those involved with its production, and I cannot wait for the film to get a proper release (hopefully later this year) so fans can see what Fede has been up to since helming Evil Dead. It’s nice to see him flex his filmmaking muscles a bit more independently, and I do hope this is only the start of his very promising career as a genre director because Don’t Breathe is an amazing sophomore effort.
Movie Score: 4.5/5