By Richard von Busack
Thanks to the crumbling Detroit settings and the low-budget thrills, Don’t Breathe is being likened to It Follows. Fede Alvarez’s film is rather damned good—the camerawork is very impressive—but it doesn’t head out into the realm of the really uncanny. The spell that it casts breaks with the credits. The plot is fairytale simple: In Detroit, three bad-off young people are in the business of robbing houses for fun and profit. The leader of the group is called Money (Daniel Zovatto), tattooed with a dollar sign on his neck so people will know his name. Money is marked for a fast death by both dialogue (“Gangsta style, bitches!”) and by his white cornrows. His pal Alex (Dylan Minnette), the son of a burglar-alarm company security guard, is in love with Money’s girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy, a blonde, tough Kristen Stewart type.)
The robbers get wind of the kind of score that could get them out of the rust belt for good. There’s an old man (Stephen Lang) who is sitting on a pile of money from an accident settlement. He’s far more well-prepared for intruders than he seems; a blind ogre, fondling his stacks of cash, sniffing and listening for the three home invaders he has trapped.
Lang’s work here is physically impressive and justifiably evil—so much more striking than his performance as the scarfaced villain in Avatar. He brings denseness to this fine slick thriller, including an unspoilable plot twist that links this cracked hermit to the transvaginal probe wing of the anti-choice coalition.
This ingenious reversal of Wait Until Dark is a beautifully constructed ordeal in which the architectural side impresses: We get to know this horror house thoroughly, from the basement containing a gagged captive, to an attic crawlspace with a foaming Rottweiler in it. In between floors, the camera travels to take in a pegboard full of tools, hammers, saws and hedge clippers. One reads that medieval torture sessions traditionally began with the interrogator in charge showing the prisoner the instruments that were about to be used. It certainly works as a strategy.