In most home-invasion horrors, the home-owners are the ones in jeopardy. Don’t Breathe neatly subverts this trope, placing three young thieves at the mercy of a blind man sitting on a pile of cash.
The film is economical to the extreme, with only Jane Levy’s (Evil Dead) Rocky getting anything in the way of sympathetic character motivation. While Money (Daniel Zovatto) is in the crime game for, obviously, cold hard cash, and Dylan Minnette’s (Goosebumps) Alex is simply infatuated with Rocky, she is in it for far more altruistic reasons.
That bit of character work is vital to the early home-invasion scenes, in which Stephen Lang’s (Avatar) unnamed Blind Man is the victim of the piece. Levy’s strong performance keeps audiences narrowly on her side until twist after twist plunges the Blind Man straight into the villain role.
And what a villain. No gimmicky mask or supernatural abilities required here – everything the Blind Man does is within the realm of realism, and can be explained away by his army background. Lang plays him with near-silent unpredictability.
The film has some great stylistic quirks, with sound effects multiplied so that even the slightest floorboard creak sounds frighteningly loud. The Blind Man’s house is introduced via a clever tracking shot, giving us the layout and showing us where the many Chekhov’s guns are hidden. Director Fede Alvarez also finds an original way of representing pitch-black darkness on screen for one very effective sequence.
It’s not perfect though. Despite its relatively brief duration it struggles to fill all the time in the house, and loses both tension and momentum when it goes outside. It also goes to a strange place in the final quarter, which feels both icky and wholly unnecessary.
Nonetheless, this is a tight, tense horror with very little gore on show, relying on suspense to keep the audience on tenterhooks. Expect to see a lot more from Alvarez in future.