Don’t Breathe (2016)

In 2013, a remake of the 1981 B-movie classic ‘The Evil Dead’ was announced as being in production…and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Normally, remakes turn out to be essentially useless and have no real reason to exist (aside from the unimaginative pursuit of cash), especially when the original is out there in The World, immortalized for the classic (or not-so-classic, in some cases) that it may be. But every once in a while, one hits the scene and ends up kicking all kinds of ass. The 2004 remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is a prime example that instantly leaps to mind. As is also the case with the 2005 ‘re-imagining’ of John Carpenter’s 1976 ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ (which this one kind of reminded me of). And in the same category, ‘Evil Dead’ (2013) turned out to be one of those, much to my amazement. Until that film came out, I’d never heard of South American director Fede Alvarez but clearly the original creators of ‘The Evil Dead’; writer / director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and writer / star Bruce Campbell, had, and gave their blessing and support to his version of their still-cool original. And rightfully so, as Alvarez’s version turned out far better than it had any right to be. One key aspect is that he was able to give the material enough of his own visual ‘spin’ to make it stand apart from the first one. It was based on that solid impression, from that film, that made me mentally note to keep an eye out for other films he may throw at us in the future. And here we are.
‘Don’t Breathe’ introduces us to 3 young inner-city Detroit low-lives; homeboy ‘Money’ (Daniel Zovatto), his inked girlfriend ‘Rocky’ (Jane Levy), and timid but smart ‘Alex’ (Dylan Minnette), as they pull off the organized burglary of an empty house. It seems that ‘Rocky’ comes from a shitty home life and yearns to escape with her toddler sister, to flee the dying cityscape of Detroit and head for the West Coast, with ‘Money’. ‘Alex’, secretly in love with ‘Rocky’, also wants to go with them and get away from the B & E’s that had been floating them financially. ‘Money’ concocts a plan to break into the home of a blind, Iraq-war veteran, known as ‘The Blind Man’ (Stephen Lang), as rumor has it that there could be up to $300 000 somewhere in the house stemming from a recent financial settlement and, after some prodding, all 3 agree to the plan. This is based on the idea that this cash would be their ticket out of there and on to a new life. At first, everything goes smoothly…but then the trio runs afoul of the not-so-helpless senior citizen and soon tables are very violently turned and creepy revelations are revealed, all with lethal potential.
I really liked this flick! I had a feeling that it was going to be cool, based on my impression of Alvarez’s previous film, and the simplicity of the plot, but also because of the surprisingly strong reviews and ‘word of mouth’ that were emerging since it’s release. I like films that take place in limited locations and the key plot points are derived from that one setting. I mentioned earlier, for some reason, I was reminded of the 2005 version of ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, but also, and more acutely, I was reminded of David Fincher’s terrific (in my humble opinion) ‘Panic Room’ (2002). Admittedly, yes, the plots are quite similar. 3 assholes break into an occupied home to steal something valuable within and are pitted against the determined resident inside. Only in this case, we’re going in with the assholes and experiencing everything from their desperate perspective, not the other way around. But where Fincher’s film looked gorgeous and ‘calculated’, ‘Don’t Breathe’ had an admirable amount of grit and grime to it, both in narrative and execution.
One aspect that really lent to the ‘edge’ of the flavor was the locales. Setting this story in the dying city of Detroit was genius, as the crumbling houses and empty streets seemed to say something about the dying ‘humanity’ in all the main players. It also allowed for things like gunfire and screams to credibly go unnoticed by the authorities because ‘The Blind Man’s house is located in the heart of a deserted neighborhood, which is completely believable given what’s currently happening to that unfortunate place.
Next up would be the characters. I like films where the audience finds it’s loyalties being challenged as the story plays out. THIS is one of THOSE. When we first meet the trio of petty criminals, they’re exactly that; low-life street scum. But as we move into the narrative, certain things are revealed and their motivations start to make sense, especially in ‘Rocky’s case. Then we meet ‘The Blind Man’, and shit goes south! It doesn’t take too long into his involvement to start siding with the burglars and rooting for them to escape. There are some later revelations that further reinforce how monstrous their intended victim actually is and that, not only do they need to escape, but he also needs to be stopped. So the characters on the written page are solid, if a lil thin, but that wouldn’t amount to anything if the portrayals were crap. Luckily, there was some good casting for this movie. Alvarez obviously had a good rapport with Jane Levy, as he brought her into this one from ‘Evil Dead’. Her portrayal of the rough-around-the-edges street-chick with a heart, convinced me to give a shit about her ordeal and to effortlessly root for her to get out of the harrowing situation. Zovatto and Minnette were also solid as ‘Money’ and ‘Alex’, with ‘Money’ at times reminding me of Jared Leto’s portrayal of ‘Junior’; the dim-witted ‘brains’ of the home invasion in ‘Panic Room’. It must be the cornrows both characters were rockin. That being said, the real powerhouse here is Stephen Lang (‘Avatar’) as ‘The Blind Man’. Now this is one intimidating motherfucker! He has about 13 lines in the whole 1 hour and 28 minute run-time, but he does SO much of his acting through some seriously threatening body movements, that lots of chit-chat just isn’t necessary. When his big, nauseating secret is revealed, and acted upon (I will never see a turkey baster the same way again. Just sayin), it’s scary and revolting, and Lang just chews into it. Not once did I catch myself seeing ‘Stephen Lang, aka ‘Col. Quarritch’ from ‘Avatar’…no sir…he WAS ‘The Blind Man’…and he was a scary bastard…with an evil Rottweiler, on top of it all.
On a technical level, this film impressed me too. I liked the use of strategic lighting and shadow to help increase the sense of claustrophobia that the flick forces upon us. Complimenting this, was a superb sound design. SO much of this story has Sound working both for, and against, the characters, and it’s clear that a lot of attention went into it. Many times, the scene was deliberately hushed, with only small, key noises being given attention. It was one of those that left me noticing all kinds of small, common sounds around me as we left the theatre and I love it when a film makes me do that. On the other side of that, when the time came for shit to get loud…it got loud! The power and discomfort of guns being fired indoors was clearly communicated here and, at times, was genuinely startling. So Kudos to them for that.
If I had to complain, there were a couple times where the common sense of the characters was somewhat questionable. For the most part, I loved how they showed that these thieves weren’t stupid and had some good tricks up their sleeves, but once in a while, they would do something that seemed almost stupidly out of character. It mostly involved instances where they’re trying go about the robbery as quietly as possible, but did things that made more intrusive noises, noises that you’d think would cook their goose. Or, in one scene, they’re standing on the street in front of the guy’s house, just planning…while smoking what looked like a fat blunt. I had to shake my head, thinking ‘So the blind dude, that they know is blind, who by default will likely have a more attuned sense of smell, won’t notice the smell of sweet sweet cheeba wafting through his window at 2 am, from a deserted street.’ Riiiigghhht. Or sneaking up to the house, all ninja-like, only to noisily shatter a window to gain entrance. A couple of those moments had me groaning a little…but luckily something harsh or intense would happen and all would be forgiven.
All in all, I was quite impressed by ‘Don’t Breathe’. It’s a simple enough premise, with some seriously messed-up shit being revealed at a good pace that had me rooting for the Main Characters to escape the situation they found themselves in and were unable to navigate. The film looks good and sounds great. All the acting is solid, but special mention again MUST be given to Stephen Lang’s freaky portrayal of a dangerous and deranged fellow. Despite the simplicity, there is some clever material peppered throughout that narrative that I actually found refreshing and that helped increase the overall Entertainment Value of the flick. If you’re a fan of well-crafted thrillers and have a reasonably strong constitution (there IS some weird and unsettling shit in this one, just putting that out there one more time), then ‘Don’t Breathe’ is one for you. We had a good time with this one in the theatre and I’d say that it’s worth seeing on The Big Screen. But if you miss it during it’s theatrical run…be sure to find it on Home Release somehow. It’s a good one!

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