(Long Island, NY) Stephen Lang, if you may recall, is a buff, 64 year-old actor best known as the evil and completely bad-ass Col. Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s 2009 hit Avatar (and revealed to be returning for its upcoming sequels, despite having been quite definitely killed in the original movie…that’s science fiction for you, I guess). He stars in the subject of today’s film review – Don’t Breathe, helmed by writer-director Fede Alvarez – as a blind old hermit living in a deserted part of Detroit who finds his home beset by a gang of thieves who are after a wad of hidden cash that he’s allegedly sitting on.
However, said thieves end up finding themselves in for a lot more than they bargained for when they realize that the Blind Man – AKA Norman Nordstrom – apparently shares a lot more in common with his Avatar character than simply having been played by the same actor. An ex-military man who knows every inch of his fortress-like home, the Blind Man proves to actually be a very deadly adversary for his would-be home invaders. However, as this tense and intense films goes on, the audience’s expectations are played with and turned around again and again…is the Blind Man simply an innocent victim defending his life and property, or is he actually something far more sinister? Is it possible for the thieves to end up deserving of our sympathy instead? This movie had me asking those questions several times, and man, was that refreshing after being subjected to non-stop films in recent years whose plots just cruise on auto-pilot the entire time.
I’m going to avoid spoiler territory as much as possible in this review, as the mysteries of Don’t Breathe should only be laid bare for you upon viewing it for yourself, but the gist of it is that a gang of robbers who have been preying upon homes in the Detroit, Michigan area are lining up “one last job” to fund a trip to a new life in California. The gang is comprised of Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Alex (Dylan Minnette), all of whom have their individual motivations for wanting to carry out their crimes…some of which may paint them in a more or less sympathetic light.
When they first decide to break-into the Blind Man’s home – they decide to do so because they heard he’s literally sitting on a pile of cash from a settlement stemming from his daughter’s death in an auto accident – they are quite clearly portrayed as the heavies. But the Blind Man – played with a quiet intensity by Lang, who barely utters a line throughout – quickly turns the tables on them, and soon they are trapped and breathlessly attempting to escape from the situation they all-too-willingly inserted themselves into. But who is the real bad guy? You’ll be guessing until the end, folks.
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Don’t Breathe is writer/director Fede Alvarez’s response to critics of his 2013 remake of The Evil Dead; that it was straightforward, unoriginal and relied too much on gore and blood in a blatant attempt to shock the audience. Personally, I felt the movie was okay, but unnecessary and ultimately very forgettable…much like most remakes these days, actually. In contrast, Don’t Breathe goes in the exact opposite direction; there’s very little blood or violence, and suspense and unbearable tension are the name of the game here, and it’s done to near-perfection in this instance, providing an instant horror classic that kept the audience I was with completely silent for the vast majority of its running time. Bear in mind that this would out of complete absorption with the proceedings and not due to any sense of ennui; Don’t Breathe is the type of movie that keeps you riveted to the screen and leaves you exhausted afterwards.
The cast are all very proficient at their craft, but the real reason Don’t Breathe works so well is Lang; as stated, he doesn’t say much, but his actions speak louder than words. His every movement, his every gesture conveys his blindness, yet he never loses his menace. In fact, he somehow seems all the more menacing because he is blind. And when the gang finds themselves in the basement of his house with the lights off – and the odds evened – well, you’ll just have to experience how intense such a thing can be for yourself. It also helps that the cinematography is on-point and the script masterfully woven, producing a classic film that drives hard to a frightful climax.
So, if you’re a fan of horror, suspense, or just exceedingly well-made movies of any genre, you owe it to yourself to check out Don’t Breathe.