This review was originally posted on March 12, 2016 following the film’s world premiere at the SXSW Conference & Festivals.
SXSW got off to a rollicking good start with the midnight premiere of Fede Alvarez’s new film Don’t Breathe last night. There was a lot of speculation surrounding the film as not much was known about it, and it turns out that’s the best way to view the film! Don’t Breathe is a masterclass in audience manipulation that proves Fede Alvarez isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s almost hard to believe that this is just his second feature film, but here we are and we have been gifted with this absolutely wonderful and fucking awesome film. It is one of the most tense viewing experiences I’ve ever had and should definitely be viewed with an audience.
The plot of the film is simple: Detroit teenagers Rocky (Jane Levy, Evil Dead, ABC’s Suburgatory), Alex (Dylan Minnette, Goosebumps, ABC’s Scandal) and Money (Daniel Zovatto, It Follows, ABC’s Revenge) and break into a blind man’s (Stephen Lang, Avatar, Gods and Generals) home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. Little do they know that this blind man is incredibly adept at protecting himself and everything in his home. Think You’re Next had a baby with Panic Room and you’ve got Don’t Breathe.
To say any more about Don’t Breathe would spoil the fun of the completely unpredictable viewing experience. Formerly known as The Man in the Dark, Don’t Breathe is a mostly silent film. In fact, it would be surprising if there were even 30 pages worth of dialogue in the script. Once the blind man wakes up, everything goes silent and we are left to Alvarez’s devices. It becomes immediately clear that he is running the show, and what a show it is.
Alvarez co-wrote the film with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, and their script, as minimal as it is, is exceptionally taut. This may seem like an odd compliment to give a film that maybe has about 20 minutes of spoken dialogue (and I’m fairly sure it’s even less than that), but Alvarez and Sayagues don’t waste a single minute of screen time. The whole thing is an exercise in suspense that would make even Hitchcock proud. Equally impressive are the extra-long tracking shots employed throughout the film. There were multiple times where I would be watching things transpire on screen and think “Is this still the same shot?” It’s absolutely hypnotic.
Jane Levy takes center stage here and boy does that honor come with a price. After what she had to go through as an actress during Evil Dead, it is surprising that she returned for an equally brutal treatment in Don’t Breathe. One scene in particular had the audience squirming in their seats, and it certainly makes one wonder why Levy isn’t getting more work. With this, Evil Dead and Suburgatory under her belt, the actress has certainly proven her worth to a project.
Faring equally well is Lang, who emerges as one of the silver screen’s best “villains” in years. Even as a blind man, he is an incredibly imposing figure. Don’t Breathe may not qualify as an actual horror movie, but Lang imbues the film with plenty of horror, and his casting pays off in spades. Minnette and Zovato are also great, although they are given significantly less to work with than Levy and Lang.
If there is one complaint to be had about the film it’s that it ends. Once the credits roll it dawns on you that this fantastic viewing experience has come to an end and you must carry on with your everyday life. In all seriousness though, I could have used a little more closure in the final reel, but that is a minor quibble in an otherwise solid film.
I could say a thousand more words about Don’t Breathe, but suffice it to say that I absolutely adored it. It was a fantastic way to open the festival and is exactly the kind of nail-bitingly tense adrenaline rush that audiences crave. The idea of overhyping a film bothers me a lot, and I feel like this review will do just that, but I refuse to mask my love for Don’t Breathe. I can’t wait to see what Alvarez has in store for us next!