There’s an issue with the movies lately that’s fast becoming a trend. It’s where the opening scene gives audiences a glimpse of events that have already unfolded. It’s a like a teaser trailer for things to come. Clearly, a character is in trouble but we’re not sure why. Then the scene fades and the story backtracks until we eventually circle around to that same moment. It’s meant to pull you immediately in and leave you wondering. In the case of Don’t Breathe, maybe, just maybe, it gives away a little too much, too soon.
It’s present day Detroit and teenager Rocky (Jane Levy) is looking for a way out of a dysfunctional home life for her and her little sister. She needs money; lots of it. With the help of her deadbeat boyfriend known only as Money (Daniel Zovatto) and a young guy who has a crush on her, Alex (Dylan Minette), the three come up with what they believe may just be the perfect plan.
As witnessed immediately after that dubious and largely unnecessary opening scene, the three youngsters get their spare cash and a certain amount of kicks from robbing homes of the wealthy and selling whatever they find. It just so happens that Alex’s father runs a home security business giving the three kids access to pass-codes. One of the homes they focus upon appears to be exactly what they’ve been looking for. “If we do this right,” explains Rocky to the two boys, “We’ll never have to do it again.”
A loner army vet (Stephan Lang) lives in a house in the middle of a derelict Detroit area with no other neighbors for blocks. There’s literally no one else around. All the other houses are empty; they’re dilapidated shells of what used to be homes while weeds grow along the neglected sidewalks, plus the streetlights are off. What makes this so attractive to the three teenagers is that the vet is known to be sitting on $300,000 that was part of an earlier publicized settlement. The young thieves acquire his alarm-code and in the early hours of the morning while the vet sleeps, they break in.
What makes this robbery even more of a dream for the thieves is the discovery that the vet is also blind. With no qualms of robbing a blind guy, the three really do think they’ve hit the jackpot. An isolated home in a deserted, derelict area, and all that’s between them and the money is a retired, vulnerable blind guy. What could go wrong?
From the moment they enter the house it all goes downhill. The vet may be blind, but he’s anything but helpless. With all the windows barred and thick padlocks on most of the doors, once the vet knows he has intruders he takes extra measures to keep everyone locked in. The victim becomes the formidable hunter and the three teenage thieves, unable to escape, are suddenly the helpless victims, and one thing is clear – the vet is taking no prisoners. “There’s nothing a man can’t do,” explains the Blind Man to a cornered Rocky, “Once he accepts there is no God.”
What seems like a simple setup progresses into something more as the teenagers hide in corners of the house, holding their breathe, trying to keep as quiet as possible as the blind vet uses his acute hearing, his sense of smell and a series of guns to weed them out. What the youngsters find in the basement changes everything making it suddenly apparent why the vet, credited as simply The Blind Man, is so intent on not letting anyone get away. It also changes audiences loyalty. For whom do you now root?
You may find yourself siding with Rocky who is looking for a better life, particularly after knowing how desperate her home life is. The film certainly appears to want you to side with her, but let’s not forget, she’s still a thief and, like the other two teenagers, she’s robbed homes and made other people’s lives a misery, and there she is, robbing a blind guy of his life savings. Yet the secret actions of the veteran and what we and the robbers discover he has previously done removes any sympathy we may have had for him.
On the one hand you may hope Rocky gets out of there alive – certainly, neither she nor the two boys deserve the kind of fate the vet may have in store for them – but on the other hand they’re still thieves robbing a blind guy. Depending on your point of view, you may think they brought it on themselves, which they did, and find yourself passively watching as events unfold, not caring who gets it next but engaged in how it’s being done.
The lack of allegiance doesn’t spoil the tension. There may be a few questionable plot holes along the way if you’re determined to look for them, but overall, Don’t Breathe is a very effective, edge-of-your-seat, taut, horrific thriller. Director Fede Alvarez does an admirable job of keeping tension to stretching point throughout without engaging in over-the-top blood letting or shooting his film with a nauseous-inducing hand-held. Ultimately, you’re just not sure who should get your cheers; they’re all in the wrong.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 88 Minutes Overall rating: 7 (out of 10)