“Don’t Breathe” (2016) Directed by Fede Alvarez. Starring Jane Levy and Stephen Lang. In this suspenseful horror flick, three young thieves seek out a rumored fortune locked away in the old house of a blind Iraq war veteran. What they believe will be an easy and fat payday becomes a violent nightmare as the man of the house turns out to be anything but helpless.
Meet Rocky, Alex and Money. They rob houses in wealthy neighborhoods in Detroit, looking for that big score that will bankroll their escape to California and a fresh start. Rocky and Money are a couple, and she wants to grab her kid sister Diddy away from their cruel and abusive alcoholic mother Ginger.
Years ago, the bitter and drunken mom used to lock Rocky in the trunk of her car for hours at a time as punishment for her father leaving Ginger. Rocky needs money to build a better life for Diddy then she had.
Alex is the son of a security system technician who has the keys and alarm pass codes to all the houses the team has robbed. That’s their secret weapon; they walk right through the front door and disarm the system, then break windows on the way out to make it look like a classic breaking and entering job.
Alex resents the idea that Rocky, whom he secretly loves, is leaving town because he has to stay in Detroit and take care of his father. He’s stuck, and they’re moving on.
According to a local fence who buys stolen merchandise from Money, an older man who lost his young daughter to a careless driver won a six-figure court settlement, leaving him with $300, 000 stashed away somewhere in his house. He lives in a crumbling urban neighborhood full of abandoned, boarded up houses, a veritable ghost town which makes for less of a police presence. It could be the perfect score, and the trio stakes the place out. They record an overnight video of the house using a hidden smart phone and find out that virtually no one walks or even drives by the place for hours.
During this stake out, they are accosted by a vicious Rottweiler who belongs to a blind man. The same fella they plan to rob.
Alex is initially resistant to the idea of doing the job after discovering their would-be victim’s handicap, so Money plays on his interest in Rocky. He finally gives in, and they gather their equipment for the break in.
To say that things don’t go as planned is a whopping understatement. From the four extra front door locks to the problematic alarm system shutdown, this job isn’t the usual breezy heist they’re used to.
After seemingly neutralizing the huge dog, they break a window and enter the quiet house and a world of creepy cool sound design. In the silence of the house, Rocky catches a tiny shard of window glass in her boot heel and it sounds like a hammer blow as she walks. It gets so quiet as the thieves split up and search the floors for the cash that when Money finally speaks in a normal conversation tone, you jump a little.
As they move through the old house, the camera glides over the gleaming surface of a .357 Magnum strapped beneath the old man’s bed, passes through floors and makes sudden turns to follow Rocky or Alex on their missions of larceny. Eventually, they meet The Blind Man, who sleeps next to a television replaying a video of his young daughter frolicking in the yard in happier times.
And then, all hell breaks loose. A man has to defend his home, right?
The Blind Man lives by his own moral code, stressing accountability and a warped sense of justice. If you take from him, he’s going to take from you. What he wants from them is what was ripped away from him, and it isn’t the settlement money they planned to boost. As he points out late in the film, none of this would be happening to the trio if they had stayed the hell out of his house. But once Rocky and Alex see what he’s been doing in the cellar, there’s no going back for anyone.
Here’s a hint: it involves cables and a harness, a baby’s crib and lots and lots of semen.
As an adversary, The Blind Man is also very human. Instead of being another cold and silent boogeyman with no weaknesses, he cries, screams and shows fear and pain. Alvarez resists the temptation to turn him into a super powered blind man like Daredevil. He doesn’t magically know where everyone is standing in a room or even how many thieves are in his home. Though he’s quite adept at murdering people and clever as far as flushing out the intruders despite being sightless, his handicap is also realistically exploited by the thieves.
The Blind Man turns the tables at one point, plunging his basement into total darkness and listening as Rocky and Alex stumble around. This sequence is filmed in grayish night vision, and made all the more creepy by having everyone being so close together with no clue who is right next to them.
Stephen Lang, who plays the layered and complex villain, doesn’t have many lines, but he makes them count. When Rocky calls his ultimate plan complete madness, he coolly delivers this line in his deep rumble of a voice:
“There’s nothing a man can’t do once he accepts that there is no God.”
Let’s face it; when you’re trapped in a dimly lit basement and somebody says that, its time to start thinking exit strategies. And this is all BEFORE the Rottweiler from Hell comes back with murder on its mind. “Evil Dead” star Jane Levy, who plays Rocky, battles the relentless canine inside a parked car and it’s one of the more memorable animal vs. human fights I’ve seen in a while. I’m not usually afraid of dogs, even big ones, but holy crap!
Fede Alvarez has knocked it out of the park again with a very different film than his awesomely bloody “Evil Dead” remake. “Don’t Breathe” is packed with suspense and reveals, rather than chainsaws and flying body parts. Blood and guts are fun, too, but this one is about sudden jolts, psychological terror and creepiness.