In 2013, Fede Alvarez dared to face the horror world with Evil Dead, the reboot/continuation film that dared to tackle one of genre’s most beloved franchises. For many, the thought of someone other than Sam Raimi crafting a new entry was almost as sacrilegious as the Necronomicon itself. However, Alvarez prevailed and released a film that stunned audiences, bringing a film that not only did the original material justice but also stood proudly and strongly on its own merits.
In one month, Alvarez will return to theaters with Don’t Breathe, which by all accounts is yet another masterpiece from the Uruguayan director. Our own Trace Thurman stated that it was, “…one of the most tense viewing experiences I’ve ever had.”
When I was in Budapest visiting the set of the film, I got the chance to interview Alvarez about the film. Head on down to learn more about the film but be warned that there will be spoilers.
Make sure to check out yesterday’s set visit report!
Don’t Breathe opens on August 26th.
“We were coming back from Comic-Con…with Rodo [Sayagues], a writer on ‘Evil Dead’ and on [‘Don’t Breathe’], and many, many things we did in the past,” he states, explaining where the idea for the movie came from. “We wanted to do something that was very, very, very, very suspenseful. That was what we really wanted to do. And we started thinking: what is one of the things that creates a lot of suspense? For me, and this is regardless of the genre or what kind of movie it is, is really when you have some character walking in someone else’s domain. We are so precious about our private space and our house, and we all have this fantasy of what if somebody walks into your house?”
The story had two interesting inspirations that people might not necessarily think of. The first was when Alvarez saw The Lovely Bones and witnessed audiences jumping in their seats during a home invasion scene. At first, he didn’t understand, stating, “I’m like, “Why are people terrified? This is not a horror movie at all.” But it’s just the concept of walking into someone else’s domain, because you are under their rules.”
Additionally, Alvarez’s own roots came into play. “I come from Uruguay. And in Uruguay crime has quite a problem. And I’ve always been fascinated by stories that you hear when they were breaking into someone’s house, and the things that happen, the things they do…” he disclosed.
In my set visit, I explained that I live near Detroit, so I know how diverse the city is in terms of its urban landscape. Some areas are perfectly safe to walk throughout while there are others that you couldn’t pay me to step foot in. Alvarez explains that his friendship with Sam Raimi helped form a better idea of how Don’t Breathe needed to be created to reflect the city.
“Part of the reason why I knew Detroit was because I spent some time with Sam while he was shooting Oz in Detroit. So I had a chance to go there and spend some days with him. And I got to know the city a little bit. I had the chance to talk to a lot of people over there and kind of get to know the character a little bit, because the mentality of some of the guys from that generation is pretty unique and pretty particular.”
In fact, that friendship is the reason why Don’t Breathe is set in the Motor City. Says Alvarez, “But it’s not a coincidence that we are doing it in Detroit. I guess the Raimi factor played that way because I was there because of Oz. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been in Detroit. I wouldn’t know Detroit. I don’t think I would write a story in a city that I’ve never been to.
Many people who saw the trailer and read the synopsis came to the conclusion that the film was inspired by the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, which starred Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman whose home is invaded by criminals. However, it might come as a surprise that this movie had completely passed Alvarez by until he spoke with his mother.
“‘Wait Until Dark’ is a movie that I hadn’t seen. And when my mother asked me what I was doing, I told her the new story, and she was like, “Oh. It’s like Wait Until Dark in reverse.” I was like, “What?” She goes, “This Audrey Hepburn movie. She was nominated for an Oscar for it.” I was like, “Fuck? What’s that thing?” And I went and watched it. But I didn’t know about it,” he professed.
But what was interesting was that didn’t dissuade him in anyway way. In fact, it only got him more excited for the project as he felt he was bringing something new, something fresh to the table. “But when I saw that it just got me more excited, because, of course, it’s a completely different story, but the opportunities of how you tell suspense when you have a blind character is great. In that movie she happens to be the poor victim that is invaded by this villain. Here it kinda works in a different way.”
Alvarez is adamant that his intentions with Don’t Breathe are pure and that he in fact had to fight passionately to get this movie made.
“Believe me, what I’ve been in Hollywood so far, I’m really trying to stay away from just jumping into other people’s movies and trying to make my own. The challenge is of course you have to go and you have to convince someone to finance your movie or a studio to put it out there. You better go and tell them something that at least sounds like it hasn’t been seen before. That is a big challenge.”
Don’t Breathe is the second time Alvarez and Levy have worked together, although it almost didn’t happen.
“When I finished the script she was the first one to read it. …Then by the time we started casting the movie, when it was a go, she was busy with another project and she wasn’t available. So we went through the casting process and I was looking for someone. But I guess I always was looking for kind of Jane and she wasn’t available. So towards the end I remember being frustrated with the process and like, “Shit. I want to find that girl.” I think she puts a picture on her Instagram, I think. She was in San Francisco. I was like, “Aren’t you supposed to be making a movie?” And I called her and she was like, “No, that movie didn’t happen.” I was like, “Do you want to come to Budapest and make a movie?” It was like, “Fuck yeah! Let’s do it!” And she flew over like next week.”
His draw to Levy is in her ability to play diverse roles, even within the same character. Speaking of her performance in Evil Dead, Avalarez states, “I love the strong female characters. I think she did a great job in Evil Dead of playing that character. At the same time, most of the movie she was a monster, right? And then eventually she became the hero in quite a strange storytelling twist.”
Much as how she played almost two wildly different people in the same body in Evil Dead, so too is that present in “Rocky”, Levy’s character in Don’t Breathe“.
“At first she’s not that strong in this movie either. She has an abusive mother. She lived quite a shitty life. And part of the reason why she wants to break into the house is to kind of break free from all that. I guess that’s a pretty unique characteristic that not everybody can play to be fragile in one moment, because in some points in the movie, as you see in the teaser, you really feel like she’s a fragile young girl and she can turn it on and then suddenly she’s quite badass. I just love to see that. And she’s awesome at doing that. That’s why she’s playing the role.”
As for his favorite character in the film, Alvarez admits that it’s Stephen Lang’s “The Blind Man”. “When we started thinking about cast we started thinking about, “Who is the guy who can pull that off?” As soon as somebody named Stephen Lang it was like, “Oh, fuck yeah.”” Alvarez excitedly commented.
“I think he was born to play this role, honestly, every day when I see him, because there’s not very much…I can’t think of a lot of actors that are in his 60’s that will be able to play frail and their age and, again, be able to play so fierce and so strong. Also, it’s a guy that played many military roles in the past, but they are always from a very strong place. So it was nice to take his eyes away and see how he was going to deal with things. So it’s just someone that knows what it is to be a military guy and suddenly been confined to this life and this house by himself alone.”
The director really wants to drive home the point that there aren’t really any heroes nor are there any villains in this movie. It’s all a matter of perspective. That being said, “I think people will connect so much with him, because among all the characters, I believe he is the one that has the biggest ordeal ahead of him in the story, the biggest challenge. He’s the underdog at first in the story. Bit by bit he will show that he has…like I said, he’s pretty resourceful.”
Turning away from Don’t Breathe for a moment, Alvarez opened up about the idea of working on a Marvel-esque project, something he seems to have absolutely zero interest in.
“Look. A lot of those movies are cool and audiences are going and watching them. It’s just as a director it’s harder to have your vision in those. They’ve figured out the style. They’ve figured out the way they shoot them. They’ve figured out the colors, the humor. What would I do? I enjoy a lot more freedom than that. I don’t know. Eventually I might. And it depends on probably the characters in the stories. But just something about my job as a director that I really enjoy is creating my own thing. It’s trying to do my own style when I shoot it and set the tone myself, those kinds of things.”
But even in the sea of seemingly mass manufactured offerings, Alvarez still finds joy and originality in recent horror films, saying that It Follows, which also stars Don’t Breathe‘s Daniel Zovatto, was a favorite of his.
“But it was a lot of nostalgia for me just because of the score and the John Carpenter style of it all. And just the premise was brilliant, I think. It was just so specific and so scary as an idea and something that taps into something that we all have, that social anxiety of seeing someone that you think is looking at us. “Is that person coming at me right now?””
One of the big questions that will become a big talking point surrounding this film is whether or not it’s horror. While many can say that it directly falls under that umbrella, there are others who will claim it fit squarely into the thriller mold. Alvarez wavers between both.
“I think it’s more of a thriller…It’s somewhere in between. It’s definitely somewhere in between because it has horror elements. There are aspects it’s pretty classical,” he explains, stating that he and Lang often found themselves returning to Psycho as inspiration and guidance.
“‘Psycho’ is horror, right? Is it still horror today? Half of the movie is Marion Crane trying to get away with some money that she stole. It’s a plot that seems to be about that. And Norman Bates is nowhere to be seen and it has nothing to do with him. And eventually at the midpoint she stops at the wrong motel. Just the story takes a turn and everything that had to do with the money just goes to hell and it has nothing to do with that. In ‘Psycho’ it completely goes away. Here it doesn’t work that way.”