The horror film “Don’t Breathe” revolves around an ingenious concept — a team of teen burglars robs the house of a blind man who isn’t so helpless — and taps into devastatingly contemporary cultural undercurrents. The robbers live in the wasteland of a downtrodden Detroit; home-invasion burglary seems like the only way out for these lower-middle class white kids.
The trio are driven by their lack of options, and as have-nots, feel somewhat justified in stealing from the haves. But there are larger motivations at stake. Rocky (Jane Levy) is desperate for an escape from her abusive mother’s house. She’s backed up by her thugged-out, wild-card boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and her friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), the brains of the operation.
It’s not long before they’re tipped off to a Gulf War vet (Stephen Lang) who’s sitting on a large cash settlement from his daughter’s wrongful death, hit by a teen driver. It’s only after they’ve set their sights on him that they discover the man is blind, but still proceed with the burglary. They’ve grossly underestimated their target, both in his physical capabilities and in his desire for retribution.
Director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues have devised some incredibly suspenseful set pieces around the man’s blindness, which the teens attempt to exploit in order to escape the house and make off with the dough. But he’s battened down the hatches on his dark, crumbling home, knows every floorboard creak and is unwilling to part with his goods — or let any deed go unpunished. Alvarez masterfully utilizes silence and sound throughout, re-creating the sensory experience of the man.
While the sight-based conceit offers the opportunity for clever suspense and scares, it’s the starkly realistic setting and all too newsworthy themes underpinning the spooky tale that makes the horror of this film so bone-chilling. “Don’t Breathe” is terrifying because it doesn’t rely on the supernatural or fantasy. These horrors are all too real and all too plausible, stories that we see on the news all too regularly. (TNS)