Fede Alvarez’s (“Evil Dead”) “Don’t Breathe” at its best, is a taut thriller. It has its fair share of white-knuckling your armrest kind of thrills and shrills, but the moments that can make it more than that are what makes this film an appreciable, but a genre-heavy movie. It’s the kind of movie that sounds perfect to experience on a lonesome, dull autumn evening. It requires that impeccable environment to make this movie seem as if it's more than the sum of its parts allow it to be.
From a thrilling standpoint, its story is crafted immaculately. Written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, (reuniting from their time on 2013’s “Evil Dead”) it goes as follows, three young kids, the wanna-be badass Money (Daniel Zovatto), the friend-zoned nice guy Alex (Dylan Minnette), and the brash and beautiful Rocky (Jane Levy). She is our emotional core of the movie, dealing with the poverty of a family that has seemingly forgotten about her. Her mother suggests that she’s prostituting at one point, and those moments allow us to reason with her throwing her rationality to the wayside for the desire of escaping from this environment. They are a team of thieves, adequate ones at that. They stick to a set of guidelines though, but with the goal of riding off into the sunset, they bend the rules for one big job.
The job? An old blind man, whose daughter was killed in a drunk driving incident, was given a settlement from her wealthy parents. An agreement he has refused to accept, in protest of the lack of justice given to the situation, as he's sitting on a pile of cash. The kids formulate a plan, using their respective skills, Alex (Dylan Minnette) being the tech-guy whose security knowledge stems from his father working as a security guard, learns the layout and the hurdles lying before them. Money (Daniel Zovatto) is the bronze of the group, able to sell the loot and fight off anything that goes wrong, and Rocky (Jane Levy) is the nifty crawler who can wiggle herself through open windows.
All of this amounts to them being a formidable group. Little do they know, the blind man lying within this house is not to be trifled with. A Vietnam vet, one that is guarding more than money, a dark secret lies in the midst of his basement, one that is sure to scar a multitude of audience members. That dark secret also manifests a shred of empathy for our villain who believes he is the hero of this story due to his injustice and is willing to gain that fairness by any means necessary.
All of this is nice and well-handled. Alvarez treats his sound design with excellent tuned craftsmanship, drowning out the noise to build tension, and then blaring up the volume to remind you of the horror of this treacherous house. The camera moves like that of “Panic Room,” sweeping through the edges and corners and doorways to give us a full perspective and understanding of the layout we have found ourselves apart of, but I do wish there was some more originality in the technicality of it all.
It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, more of a remarkable use of tools that others made famous. I can say that Alvarez seems like an expert technician, never shying away from the challenge of creating a suspenseful tale shaded with a dark edge. The heart underneath it all is worth noting though, the group of young sinners confronted an older sinner. Consistently pretending to be the hero in their story, justifying their actions to themselves. It’s a group of criminals, locked inside a house, revealing to each other how far their willing to go to get what they came here for or protect what he believes is rightfully owed to him.
All of it adds up to something of an enjoyable watch. The style feels rehashed, and the heart of the story gets buried underneath the thrilling aspects of it all, but where it gains its appreciation is with Levy and Lang’s performances. On fire with believability and pure cinematic appeal, these two provide two performances that bring this thriller past the land of mediocrity. Dylan Minnette is superb as well, and Daniel Zovatto does enough to note a mention or two.
“Don’t Breathe” is the kind of movie that arrived at the perfect time. It would be easy to describe this movie of 2016’s best, but seeing past the fanatic ferocity of it's best parts, you can see the familiarity lying underneath it all that doesn’t do anything more than remind you of a better movie. It’s not to say that “Don’t Breathe” amounts to a bad movie, rather the opposite. Just not a good enough film to warrant an in-theatre rewatch, needing a breath of fresh air to make it something more than a jolting experience.