Blind man’s bluff

Uruguyan-born filmmaker Fede Alvarez, who faced an uphill climb with his 2013 English-language debut, Evil Dead (a remake/ reboot that perhaps inevitably fell short), has re-teamed with producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert for Don’t Breathe, a grueling and gruesome shocker that finds him on firmer, scarier ground.

Originally titled Man in the Dark, Don’t Breathe follows three young thieves (Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovato and Evil Dead alumnus Jane Levy) as they break into the house of a blind, reclusive military veteran (Stephen Lang), and very quickly learn to regret. How long they live to regret it, naturally, forms the basis for this effective exercise in stylized suspense – although the squeamish are forewarned. Don’t Breathe plays rough, which is one of its major attributes.

The miscreants, introduced pulling off what is clearly just the latest in a long line of home robberies, would seem to deserve just what’s coming to them. But as the plot thickens and the Blind Man’s hidden secrets are discovered, audience sympathies begin to shift.

The film occasionally echoes Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991), an interesting failure that shakily combined its shocks with an allegory about poverty and economic despair. Don’t Breathe is a much more assured film, and the desolation and decay of economically-ravaged Detroit (where the film is set) is evident in nearly every exterior scene.

The veteran Lang is an imposing presence here, despite his character’s handicap. Even as his monstrous nature comes to the fore, he’s an intelligent boogeyman. Levy, a plucky blonde in the Samantha Mathis/Reese Witherspoon fashion, earns her Scream Queen stripes here.

Screenwriters Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who also earlier collaborated on Evil Dead, keep the story simple and tightly compressed, while throwing in some sharp (and violent) twists along the way, as well as a bit of Old Testament ideology. One can’t help but be reminded of “Thou Shalt Not Steal” and “Thou Shalt Not Covet” – especially when the intended victim is a trained combat veteran with some very dark secrets.

Like the majority of horror films, it’s best not to ponder too much the storyline, but Don’t Breathe maintains such a grim intensity that one isn’t likely to. This is an instant cult classic, served to order. !