Though divisive amongst fans the 2013 remake of Evil Dead successfully revived the franchise and led to the further adventures of Ash in the television series Ash vs. Evil Dead. As such the second pairing of Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert as producers and Fede Alvarez as director has received a bit more hype than your average lower budget horror film. Critically, at least, Don’t Breathe seems poised to outperform Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake currently boasting a high 80 on Rotten Tomatoes as opposed to his previous film’s low 60. The film certainly deserves this praise by virtue of being one of the most unique and suspenseful horror films of the year.
The film follows three youthful offenders played by Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto. Horror fans may recognize Jane Levy who previously stared in Alvarez’s Evil Dead film, and Dylan Minnette who had a small role in 2010’s Let Me In and stared in last year’s horror comedy Goosebumps. Said youthful offenders have been eking out a living breaking into homes using knowledge that Minnette’s character has obtained from his father’s work in home security. The plot revolves around the trio throwing all their rules out the window such as no firearms, and taking only hard to track items like watches and jewelry to pursue one last big score.
Seeing as their mark is a blind Gulf War veteran living in a virtually abandoned neighborhood who recently received a large settlement related to the accidental death of his daughter the trio assume the job will be an easy one. To the their surprise the veteran played by Stephen Lang is no helpless old man however. While it may be more than a bit hard to sympathize with a group who would rob a blind Gulf War veteran some may even be tempted to find some amusement in an old man so thoroughly turning the table the home intruders, Stephen Lang’s performance makes it easy. While there is nothing supernatural about Lang’s character his performance and the direction do an excellent job at making him come off as something more or less than human. Until the end of the film Lang’s character barely speaks and the advantages and disadvantages he has over the robbers due to his blindness help to build him up into a inhuman threat. Once the robbers see what the old man has in the basement viewers are also very likely to begin rooting for them. In order to keep spoilers to a minimum once it’s reveled what is in the old man’s basement viewers are likely to think they’ve figured out his motivations but as the film continues further revelations make his motivations even more disturbing.
The films strengths lie in its setting and atmosphere. While the viewer may not care too much for their “protagonists” and are unlikely to be all that scared by the film, the sense of tension the film builds is likely to have them on the edge of their seats. Despite having to simply make it out the door and to their car the robbers simply cannot catch a break. The windows of the home are all bared and the old man has locked all the doors making the would be home intruders little more than rats in the old man’s maze. The only thing they have going in their favor is the old man’s blindness. Even that handicap is not much of an advantage, though, as he possess enough strength, cunning, and endurance to give Michael Meyers a run for his money.
On the subject of money, the robbers determination to make it out with the old man’s cash repeatedly bites them in the ass. Adding to the tension of Lang’s character seeming to be around every corner is the films brilliant setting choice. Most viewers have probably seen the pictures of the ghost towns around Detroit Michigan selling for poultry sums as citizens abandon the failing city. By making Lang’s character the last holdout in a crumbling subdivision the film takes on a bit of a Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel due to the fact that the protagonists are just beyond civilization enough that there is no one to hear them scream.
The film also blends in some elements of films like Cujo thanks to Lang’s character being aided by an oversized seeing eye dog. Near the end of the film viewers must sit on the edge of their seats as Jane Levy’s character is trapped inside of a car with a monstrous dog separating her from the money. The films greatest strength though is Lang’s performance from his intimidating sinewy build to the almost fluorescent deadeyes he’s been outfitted with he makes for an excellent slasher style antagonist and as the narrative reveals more of what makes his character tick things only get darker. If you’re looking for a fairly grounded horror film or are curious at how the team from 2013’s Evil Dead would handle an original story this one is definitely worth checking out.