Don't Breathe (4 stars)

Don't Breathe

A simple premise brings a nerve-jangling chiller that should satisfy even the most demanding genre fans

Catching a breath isn't an option in Fede Alvarez's relentless variation on the home invasion thriller. A career upgrade for the Uruguayan director, whose last film was 2013's lost-in-the-woods Evil Dead remake, Don't Breathe compensates for what it lacks in niceties with a Rottweiler's sense of attack-mode purpose.

In no-flab pulp style, there's no mucking about plot-wise. Right off the bat, a Detroit-based trio of young leads are introduced robbing posh houses. When one of them masturbates in a trashed mansion, be warned/assured: like Chekhov's gun, bodily fluids will return, as will the tools spied at their next hit's abode. Swiftly, put-upon Rocky (Jane Levy), her macho boyf Money (Daniel Zovatto) and likable geek Alex (Dylan Minnette) plot to rob a blind Iraq War vet (Stephen Lang) of the compensation he received after his daughter was killed in a car accident.

It's no spoiler that Avatar hard-case Lang's unnamed 'Blind Man' plays rough better than his youngers. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues have more twists at hand, which they spin with great control of suspense, surprise and narrative space. Fluently navigated by DOP Pedro Luque, the pinched hallways of the Blind Man's place harbour jolts around every bend. As Alvarez keeps us guessing who to root for, he never stops finding ways to fry our nerves: splintering glass, night vision and a bloody big dog are notably well used.

True, his grip on psychology and subtext sometimes surrenders to efficacy: a theme of American economic crisis seems just an excuse to pit desperation against desperation. Yet by the time of the meat-baster moment, Alvarez's sadistic skill at rattling even knowing audiences will be beyond doubt. Connoisseurs of cruelty will sweat, squirm and relish every mean, masochistic minute of it.

General release from Fri 9 Sept.

Don't Breathe

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 28min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Fede Alvarez
  • Cast: Jane Levy, Daniel Zovatto, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang
  • UK release: 9 September 2016

Rocky (Levy), Money (Zovatto) and Alex (Minnette) rob rich people's houses, but when they break into the house of a blind Iraq War veteran (Lang) they get more than they bargained for. Nerve-shredding home invasion thriller with great control of suspense, surprise and pace.