(NEW YORK) — The world should’ve known writer/director Fede Alvarez would give us something like Don’t Breathe when he successfully remade Evil Dead three years ago. There was a reason Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell picked Alvarez for that task.
But it’s one thing to have a template for a film and successfully adapt it for fans and a new audience. It’s another to create an original horror story that’s a near masterpiece.
Don’t Breathe is about three terrible people who like to rob homes. Rooting for any of them is, essentially, picking your poison. There’s Rocky (Jane Levy, who also worked with Alvarez in Evil Dead), a broke, single mother who lives with her strung-out mom in a trailer; Alex (Dylan Minnette), the son of a security company owner who gives the group access to the homes because of his access to his father’s keys; and their ringleader, Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky’s morally bankrupt, moronic boyfriend.
Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues give Rocky and Alex some likable traits, lest we not be completely turned off, because we need some reason to eventually root for them. Rocky, for instance, just wants a better life for her daughter, and is in a situation that’s for the most part beyond her control. Rocky’s dream is to save up enough money to leave Detroit and move to California, and Alex – who clearly feels guilty about what he’s doing – has a crush on Rocky and hopes to follow her.
They may get their chance when Money’s given a tip about a secluded Iraqi war veteran who may have at least 300 grand in his house, a settlement he won after his daughter was killed by reckless driver.
Turns out the war vet (Stephen Lang) is blind. He also lives in an abandoned neighborhood and owns a very scary dog. Money, of course, thinks this is going to be a piece of cake; the guy can’t see, nobody else is around. Even the least experienced horror fan knows all of this spells trouble, but in Alvarez’s hands, it’s the type of twisted, unpredictable, heart-pounding trouble that will endear this particular filmmaker to fans forever.
While some of the decisions the characters make defy logic, we stay with this story in part because on any given day, the news or your social media feeds have a story about dumb criminals, which is what these three are. The negative is accepting some of the more gross and abhorrent behavior toward women depicted in this film. Within the context of the story, it makes sense but it’s still uncomfortable to watch and not entirely necessary. Fans may argue it’s just a movie and all in good fun, but depicting graphic, over-the-top violence against women, even if they’ve broken into your home and done you wrong, can be avoided. I’m hoping Mr. Alvarez’s fertile creative imagination can do so in the future.
Stephen Lang, as the suffering, blind shut-in, is probably one of the best-cast roles of the year. What he executes in this film shouldn’t be believable, but his collaboration with Mr. Alvarez and company produces a man who is very real.
Issues aside, Don’t Breathe is sure to become a horror classic.
Four out of five stars.
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