Don’t Breathe (2016)
Directed by Fede Alvarez
A life in the slums of Detroit is not the life Rocky (Jane Levy) wants for herself or her sister. Desperate to get as far away as possible, she, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zavatto), and their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) have been robbing homes and selling the loot. When Money hears about an old man (Stephen Lang) who received a large legal settlement recently, he thinks it’s the perfect hit. When they find out he’s blind, and that he lives alone, they even feel confident enough to do it while he’s inside the house. But when they break in, they realize they’re in over their heads. The blind man is also a war veteran, you see, and despite his condition he’s a much more formidable victim than they accounted for—and their simple cash grab soon turns into a complicated cat and mouse game with a man willing and able to defend his home at any cost.
Back in April, “Hush” broke barriers when it made a deaf character the protagonist in a thriller. Now, Stephen Lang plays The Blind Man, the antagonist of “Don’t Breathe,” which allows director Fede Alvarez ( 2013’s “Evil Dead”) to play around with different elements of suspense that haven’t been implemented before, at least in a movie I’ve ever seen. While it does eventually employ some more predictable horror tropes, “Don’t Breathe” is easily the summer’s most unpredictable entertainment, the best horror-thriller since “10 Cloverfield Lane.” It scares you in ways you didn’t even know you could be scared.
As The Blind Man (that’s how he’s credited; I’m not just being insensitive), Stephen Lang gives one of the year’s most effective performances. I’m not saying he should win an Oscar, but every performance in every movie has a set of goals, the things you need to do to effectively portray your character—and he met every one of his goals. He needed to be convincing playing a disability that he doesn’t in reality possess. He needed to be properly creepy and unsettling. He does that. Mission accomplished. In her first big role since director Alvarez cast her in “Evil Dead,” Jane Levy plays Rocky with the appropriate level of freaked-the-fck-out. In a movie that clearly doesn’t care about your movie award shows, Levy and Lang (as hero and villain, respectively…though there is not a black and white hero/villain dynamic, and you’ll often catch yourself questioning whether anyone is good) play their parts to make “Don’t Breathe” about as effective as you can get in this genre.