Direction: Fede Alvarez
Actors: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette
Rating: 4 / 5
This home-invasion thriller has more scares than all the supernatural horror films of James Wan put together.
Cleverly inverting the premise of the vintage Audrey Hepburn-starrer Wait Until Dark (1967), Uruguay-born filmmaker Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead, 2013) forgoes splatter sensationalism to concentrate on suspense and surprises.
Working from a rigorous script co-authored with Rodo Sayagues, the director confines the action of Don’t Breathe almost entirely to a rundown house in an abandoned Detroit neighbourhood.
The owner of the house (Stephen Lang) is an Iraq war veteran gone blind. Three teenage friends (Levy, Minnette, Daniel Zovatto) in the habit of breaking and entering rich people’s houses decide to target him because rumour has it he has hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed in his safe.
After all, they reason, how hard can it be to rob a sightless middle-aged man? They find out soon enough, as an ever-accelerating cat-and-mouse game unfolds.
Trapped in the dungeon-like basement of the house, the burglars eventually make a discovery so shocking that you can no longer empathise with any of the characters.
Creaking wooden floorboards, the ringtone of a cellphone and a snarling Rottweiler are used to chilling effect.
Even the recurring passages of pin-drop silence generate edge-of-the-seat dread. Since loud breathing can attract the attention of the sound-sensitive army man, the intruders — and more often than not, the viewer — comply with the titular admonition.
In addition to Alvarez’s savvy storytelling skills, fluid camerawork courtesy Pedro Luque, an effectively eerie music score, and powerful performances particularly from Lang, contribute in making Don’t Breathe one of the more disturbing frightmares of the year so far.
Highly recommended for the strong of stomach and not easily terrified.
Watch the trailer for Don’t Breathe