Fede Alvarez follows up his 2013 reboot of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead with a non-stop ride of tension that restored my faith in horror filmmaking. Up until its midnight premiere on Friday night, Alvarez’s film was going under the name of Untitled Fede Alvarez / Ghost House Thriller without a single still photo, poster, or cast announcement to be found. As someone who is somewhat ambivalent to spoilers in general, I could not have been happier that I saw this practically blind with information, as I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Now under the title of Don’t Breathe, Alvarez’s film follows a group of three local burglars, as the groups learns that a blind man is living in the only non-evacuated house on a deserted Detroit street. Taking place almost entirely in this man’s house, Alvarez begins to start laying out every square inch of this man’s house from the very moment the group of burglars begins to approach his property for the very first time. I have seen very few recent horror films from the past ten-fifteen years that display as strong of an understanding of spatial relationships as Fede Alvarez showcases in Don’t Breathe. Throughout a rather scant 88-minute runtime, Alvarez manages to explore every single room of this house, as he lays out the blueprint for its many caveats along the way.
Jane Levy, who also starred in Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, takes the helm as the star of the film. To say that Levy is great here would be a vast understatement. Her intense commitment to always capturing and expressively emoting her character’s internal conflicts throughout the course of the film is some of the most impressive work that I have seen from an actress in a horror film in the past ten years. Levy’s performance will without a doubt blow you away, as she carries Don’t Breathe with such an incredible amount of ferociousness.
Stephen Lang, one of our most consistently great character actors, gives an utterly commanding performance as the blind man that Levy and the rest of her crew try to rob. Playing an ex-military soldier, Lang’s unnamed character is still coping after the vehicular homicide of his daughter many moons ago, as grief continues to haunt him day in and day out. Lang’s dedicated performance to playing a blind man is truly outstanding, as we watch his character try to navigate the house on his own as he tracks and attempts to contain the bandits before the money is too far gone. As a director, Alvarez establishes this clear sense of how the blind man has been residing in his house for a majority of his life, as he can literally navigate every square inch of it without assistance.
To fully soak up the tension high that is Don’t Breathe, you have to look past quite a few things that don’t particularly make sense in a grounded environment. For example, every gun of the blind man seemingly has an unlimited clip to it as he fires off countless rounds, but never seems to run out until he is just about to get one of the burglars. Alvarez isn’t concerned about maintaining a grounded environment. For him, it is all about the experience that you have with the film, which is why these things don’t particularly matter since Alvarez has crafted what is by far one of the tensest films since the turn of the decade.