If Fede Alvarez’s name doesn’t mean anything to you, it should.
This filmmaker, with only two movies under his belt, is someone to look out for. Working alongside Sam Raimi (he directed the remake of Raimi’s Evil Dead three years ago), Alvarez has been successful at making crowd-pleasing experiences that people get genuinely excited about. While Raimi’s original film was a marvel in special effects and gore, Alvarez added something to the franchise by somehow making newcomers and fans of the original go wild at screenings. It was a fun movie, perhaps (no, definitely) even bloodier and nastier than the original (even if it lacked the magic that made it so popular).
Now he has made Don’t Breathe, a movie not all that different than Evil Dead in terms of setting and mood but lacking the presence of supernatural forces and (ahem) Satan. It’s also worth noting, I guess, that this is a far better film than Evil Dead, with a better sense of dread, surer direction, and, believe it or not, a scarier villain. Yes, the old, blind guy in this movie may not seem like much in the trailers, but once you see his eyes, grey hair, and blood-spattered wife-beater, you’ll probably find yourself shaking in fear.
The reason this villain works so well is that we aren’t entirely convinced he is a villain. For a good chunk of time (and I refuse to spoil anything so I’m treading lightly), we aren’t exactly sure who to root for. The script, which introduces Dillon Minnette’s Alex and Jane Levy’s Rocky, does a terrific job at twisting things up, making our main characters actually the bad guys, and then when the man who is playing the monster-of-the-movie role comes along, we aren’t sure if we’re supposed to be afraid of him or if he is just defending himself. And it takes a good while before the movie lets you know who is good, who is bad, or if everyone is bad and the world is just going to hell.
Before our characters get to the Blind Man’s house, the film suffers from a cliched setup (girl lives with mom, mom smokes in the house and lives with boyfriend that girl doesn’t like, etc.), and this was an issue for me as it the film began. But once it finds its footing about fifteen minutes in, it doesn’t stop, and that’s no exaggeration. After the film’s halfway mark, shit hits the fan in ways I wouldn’t even dream of spoiling. Just know that Stephen Lang’s character (never named, but titled only as “The Blind Man”) is one of the year’s scariest on-screen presences, an unrelenting force of terror that has what every great movie villain needs: motivation and a sense of reason. Still, nothing justifies his actions, and when you get to the final act of the film, your hands will be placed over your mouth just as Jane Levy’s are on the poster. It’s a riveting final act, one that somehow takes the dread and tension found in the second act and raises it, causing me, someone who usually doesn’t get too affected by horror films, to be a bit on the edge to the point where I started physically trembling.
Don’t Breathe is probably the best example of a great horror movie for everyone. People that don’t want to see a witch grind a baby up and rub the meat all over her body will find far more enjoyment in this film than in The Witch. This is a tense, unrelenting suspense picture that has all the elements of being a horror movie but also rarely ever falling back on horror movie tropes (still, some are there). This is a straight-up crowdpleaser that is going to make lots of money and, for once, deserves it. It’s loads of fun.