A blind person, in danger, under attack from a ruthless assailant, but in his/her own home, where he/she has the advantage. It’s Wait Until Dark, basically, which only happens to be one of the great suspenseful plays, and which became a darned good suspense film. So what if you turned that story on its head? What if you made the blind person the bad guy?
Such is the challenge Don’t Breathe presents us. Three would-be thieves break into the home of an older blind man, a veteran. The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) has also lost his daughter in a terrible accident. He received a substantial cash settlement afterwards; the thieves think there’s a chance that cash from that settlement may be somewhere in his house. They break in in the middle of the night, assuming the Blind Man will be asleep. He wakes up, and fights back. That’s the premise for the movie. And we’re supposed to root for the thieves? Aren’t they pretty deplorable? There’s no way.
Yet Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, making just his second feature film (the first being the 2013 remake of Evil Dead) has made a devilishly clever thriller, every part of which works beautifully. It shouldn’t work, but it does. We root for the thieves. We root against the Blind Man.
A lot of it, of course, has to do with the actors. Suburgatory‘s Jane Levy plays Rocky, our heroine. She’s a thief for selfless reasons; she’s desperate to make enough money to get her and her younger sister out of the crummy apartment where her alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend preside. And that helps sell the premise; we like Rocky, we want her succeed. Rocky’s boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto) is an obnoxious jerk, and sort of the ringleader of the three of them; the movie only works if he’s out of the picture early, and so he’s the first thief taken out by The Blind Man. And Alex (Dylan Minnette), is the nice guy, with a crush on Rocky, the locks and security systems expert. So a lot of the movie involves The Blind Man hunting these two likable kids up and down the stairs and corridors of these terrific old house.
I won’t give any more it away. There are twists and turns galore, including a shocking moment when the three thieves are joined by a fourth would-be victim of The Blind Man. And it’s not just the kids against the Blind Man; he has an ally, in a thoroughly terrifying dog.
The result is a genuinely scary and exciting movie. Lots of surprises, beautifully timed scenes building suspense, shocks and thrills and people (and dogs) jumping out at us. There’s not much else going on, I have to say. It’s just a really well made scary movie. But if you like those, this is a good one.