It’s always satisfying to see when a low-budget movie is smashing the box office from its first day of release.
DON’T BREATHE has no big stars, no fancy location and was made on a small budget, yet it surprised everyone.
Although there is no clear recipe to success, like baking a cake, it always helps when you use the right, valuable ingredients.
The first crucial ingredient is, of course, the screenplay written by Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez. Three young thieves Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) decide to rob the house of a lonely old blind man who, as rumour has it, is sitting on a cash fortune. Robbing a blind man? The trio think it’s going to be a piece of cake. Except that the old man is an ex-army veteran, so they’d better not bet on it!
As the film starts you might think you’ve seen it all before. You’d better not bet on that either! You ain’t seen nothing yet!
The second strong ingredient is the pace of the film: there is no timeout for your mind to wander. When a lot of films have a very good beginning then slowly start to run out of breath towards the middle, DON’T BREATHE has an opposite effect: the film builds up to a crescendo of unexpected twists and surprises (that I will not mention to avoid spoiling the film for those who haven’t watched it yet). Yet all the premises are there subtly implanted from the beginning to reappear in force during the film. It’s a film that has paid a lot of attention to detail including the name of the street where the house is (Buena vista street).
The third ingredient is the characterisation. Although, the characters are based on poor kids that are desperately trying to escape a miserable life by earning quick cash, it is quite refreshing to see a female leading role (ROCKY) marvellously played by Jane Levy, who is neither a ‘damsel in distress’ nor a ‘wonder woman’. She is a decision maker and yet looks incredibly fragile at the same time. We love her for her strengths AND her weaknesses.
The blind man, played by Stephen Lang, is a fascinating character too. When he first appears in the film, he is portrayed as the poor victim. Turns out, he is the monster in the house. His pain (the loss of his daughter) is palpable and makes him a fascinating villain.
The fourth ingredient is the resonance of this film. Although some may think there is nothing deep in a horror movie (arguable), this film resonates on our modern human condition: slaves to cash. And there is no escape without it. Rocky needs that money for her and her sister to escape a very gloomy life in Detroit. She can’t leave the house without the blind man’s money, because if she does, her life will remain the same. The blind man’s house becomes then the analogy of Rocky’s life.
The last ingredient is the film maker Fede Alvarez. After directing the remake of EVIL DEAD, he could have fallen into the pitfall of only directing big franchises, but no. He decided to make a low budget movie instead and showed the world what he was capable of. He uses every single element (the set, the lighting and some incredible shots) to make us jump at every corner. The film plays with silence a lot, so of course, the tiniest noise makes us incredibly nervous (DON’T BREATHE makes an excellent title to this story).
The scene in the basement when the old man switches off the lights bringing the young thieves into his world of darkness is remarkable and so is the scene where Rocky escapes the house to find herself trapped again in the car.
Fede Alvarez is definitely a name to remember. Be aware though – this Uruguayan film director will make you hold your breath for some serious thrilling entertainment.