Written by: Fede Álvarez & Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto
The appearance of an easy target does not always signify it to be the case. Take an old man, who lives alone, and is visually impaired. All parts of a formula these three robbers see as an easy mark, which proves to be a mistake once they enter. The house turns into a place of horror as punctuated in Don’t Breathe, which ensures you’ll never look at turkey basters in the same way ever again.
Living in an abusive household and desperately wanting to leave with her younger sister, Rocky (Jane Levy) gets by breaking into people’s homes and selling off valuables she steals along with her friends Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). With the opportunity to land a score of $300,000 a blind old man (Stephen Lang) has in his home, Rocky sees this as the ultimate payout to leave Detroit and go to California. When they break in, they learn this old man is more than capable to defend himself.
Flipping the script in the way Don’t Breathe does is an ingenious concept because it makes the original perpetrators the hunted when they realize this blind old man has some secrets he does not want others to know. They enter looking for some money and find something much more sinister, which makes it a fight to just escape rather than getting their score. For them being teens going through houses, they have such a professional mindset in the way they burgle. They do the proper research in looking at the mark, the potential roadblocks, and execute it very well. In this particular instance, they drug the watchdog and inject a sleeping gas into the old man’s room in order to make this a painless process. Nothing could have adequately prepared them for what this house held and with each layer, things just get more frightening.
The initial appearance of the old man, Nordstrom, comes from him hearing their commotion, and he suddenly emerges in the hallway right next to them all. Nothing about him seems off initially, as he appears to be a person justifiably concerned about strangers being in his home at night but then the switch happens and things suddenly get horrifying very quickly. Whatever he has hidden in his home makes him react in a way where having these robbers leave no longer becomes a viable option. Instead, he locks the doors and windows to keep them in so he can kill them. Instead of it being a challenge to break in, the story shifts to the robbers trying to break out.
Setting up the scares produces some terrifying sequences, as the robbers try to make their way out, Nordstrom could be around any corner as he hunts for them. Any advantage they had over him dissipates because Nordstrom knows his way around this home and the points of exit for the youngsters get restricted as more time elapses. With Nordstrom being blind, his other senses get boosted, which makes the title of the film integral to survival. His other senses kick into high gear and can even hear the robbers breathing to locate them. So many instances of Rocky and Alex being right next to Nordstrom, but he cannot see them adds to the unrelenting danger and dread occurring. At times it appears he has supernatural quickness because he seems to gallivant around the house and always be at the right place at the right time, but it further speaks to the advantage he holds over them with this terrain and how survival will come from pure luck.
Stephen Lang’s performance as Nordstrom shifts from a feeble looking old man to such a menacing force. The switch happens instantaneously in the film and works. He brings a physicality to this performance where he gets even more intimidating as the story continues to play out. Much of his performance works through the physical presence he provides and how ghastly his appearance in any scene causes an immeasurable amount of fright.
As a singular work, Fede Álvarez dazzles in the way he sets up this entire story. It takes place in an abandoned Detroit neighborhood. Following the recession, this city and state got a brutal shake in how events transpired economically, which makes sense for Nordstrom to be the only one around. This only adds to the isolation factor Rocky and her crew thought would benefit them but does the opposite when they seek help with no one available to provide it. That’s just from the outside as within the house Alvarez makes it feel so confined and cramped where there’s not much room for Rocky to hide without bumping into Nordstrom. It displays incredibly effective filmmaking by the Uruguayan director and demonstrates he knows how to tell incredibly unsettling stories.
If anything Don’t Breathe will teach people not to underestimate who they may believe is a vulnerable mark. Much more occurs as the story progresses to reveal a truly sinister situation occurring in this strange house. It gets more depraved and by the end, this film will make you shiver from the uncomfortable events that transpire. Shocking in many ways as it is impactful, this terrific movie creates a tremendous amount of horrifying dread.