Fede Alvarez first made waves with his gore-tastic 2013 reimagining of the Evil Dead franchise, under the guidance of original mastermind Sam Raimi. Now, 3 years later, the Uruguayan filmmaker has continued to flex his horror-centric muscle with the rather excellent, Don’t Breathe.
Alvarez’s follow-up replaces chainsaws and blood-filled skies for nail-biting tension that draws from David Fincher’s Panic Room, but does more than enough to cement itself as an original and masterful modern horror/thriller film.
The film takes advantage of an economically ravaged Detroit, and the city once again makes a recognisable and realistic canvas for destitution, crime and near-annihilation.
Detroit’s 2013 bankruptcy claim, made it the largest city in US history to go under. Owing approximately $18 billion in debt, an entire generation was forced to skip town and abandon some 80,000 buildings in the process.
It is here, in this tragically real world economic nightmare, where Don’t Breathe tells its story.
Three directionless and disillusioned teenagers Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dlan Minette) decide to break into 1837 Buena Vista Street, the home of a blind, ex-Iraq War vet (a grizzled Stephen Lang) who is rumoured to be sitting on $300,000 after the death of his daughter.
The perfect score against an easy target, right?
As one would expect, things quickly devolve and spiral out of control and the relentless tension ratchets up to terrifying levels, proving that the appropriate title is a condition of entry for the audience, rather than a warning for our characters on screen.
At this point, I won’t divulge much else about the plot. This is a film that one must see…blind.
If you weren’t convinced by Alvarez’s artisanship after Evil Dead, you’d best pay closer attention now, because Fede is making a strong case for his inclusion in the list of top modern horror filmmakers.
One particular scene reinvents the infamous night-vision sequence from The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and extends it with terrifying precision. It’s an adroit filmmaking moment, that turns a pitch black basement into a twisted house of horrors.
Don’t Breathe is cleverly crafted to play out like a ultra claustrophobic/hyper deadly game of hide and seek, where your allegiances constantly switch between the players as each narrative twist unfolds. Each character’s moral ambiguity is a product and a reflection of the hellish and ruinous surroundings they are forced to reside in.
What’s more, these characters (for the most part) actually make realistic decisions in a horror film, reacting in the heat of the moment with instinct and perception. They may not also be the best, but you get the feeling that Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues made this a conscious decision.
Jane Levy again demonstrates her huge star potential and is easily the best of the young trio. After her outstanding work on Evil Dead, I was certain we’d see her striking features in more productions, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, this is yet to be the case. As he did so previously, Alvarez throws Levy head first into the pits of hell to deliver fearless physical and reactive performance. She beautifully embodies her role as a morally complex thief, who is more than able to take the nastiness on offer and redistribute it herself.
Special mention must also be made for Stephen Lang, a renowned dramatic actor who is known for his work in Avatar, but shouldn’t be defined by it. He effortlessly commands sympathy, fear and disgust for his Blind Man creation with minimal dialogue and a truck load of intensity.
Don’t Breathe is an extension to the wicked adrenaline rush we’ve been feeling pretty consistently throughout 2016. In a year where other genres have faltered to follow through on their promises and setups, it’s refreshing to know that the horror/thriller genre did what it could to inject energy into an otherwise lacklustre movie season.
For a genre that is often ridiculed with pretenders and poorly produced miscues, The Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room, The Conjuring 2, The Shallows and now Don’t Breathe have all proven that the genre has plenty of blood and vitality left in those veins.
Let’s hope that Fede continues to let it flow.