Following on from his brutal and brilliant remake of The Evil Dead, director Fede Álvarez delivers another gripping slice of unadulterated terror with this terrific home invasion film. Don’t Breathe is a stylish, provocative and relentless thrill ride which works so well because it is fundamentally believable. The true monsters in this story aren’t supernatural in origin. They are the grim social and economic realities which cause it’s damaged characters to make flawed decisions, ultimately leading each of them onto a blood drenched road to hell.
In a desolate Michigan neighbourhood, only one humble abode remains occupied. It’s owner is a blind man (Stephen Lang) who is supposedly hording a stack of cash having been paid off by a wealthy family after his daughter was killed in a hit and run incident. The promise of an easy score is enough incentive for a rebellious trio of teenage thieves to break into the property. Getting into the house proves to be a straight forward task for Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). Getting out is a different proposition altogether. Despite the blind man’s disability, it becomes quickly apparent that these hapless kids have messed with the wrong dude.
Álvarez displays a certain reverence for horror genre tropes throughout this film. The basic premise of teenagers versus a merciless villain has been done plenty of times before. Here the set-up is given extra weight by grounding itself into a world which is frighteningly familiar. The story never pushes itself too far to be incredulous and is more terrifying due to it’s realism. The blind man is a physically and psychologically wounded war veteran, while the main protagonist Rocky, is a vulnerable kid from a broken home who has resorted to criminal life in order to free herself and her young sister from their wretched domestic situation. The characters and situations depicted in this film are not a far stretch from the kind of stories which creep into CNN news bulletins. Despite the smart social commentary. this is still unequivocally a horror film. The dark and creepy setting, perfectly timed jump scares and occasional injection of jaw dropping grossness are all essential ingredients which are utilised to optimum effect. The cast are excellent with Levy building on her impressive lead role in The Evil Dead to stake her claim as a modern day scream queen and veteran Lang (Avatar) providing a disturbing, memorable and powerful performance.
Two films in and Alvarez is looking a likely contender to join the A-league of contemporary horror directors. Here he displays visual inventiveness, excellent camerawork and a sustained level of excruciating tension throughout, aided by a craftily written script which has a deliciously nasty sting in it’s tail. There have been some fine horror films released in 2016 already. Don’t Breathe is up there with the best of them.