J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Don’t Breathe: One Way or Another, Detroit Will Kill You

Detroit has slashed it police force by forty percent over the last ten years. Ordinarily, that makes things awfully convenient for Rocky and her burglar pals, because it means there just are not a lot of cops to respond to calls. However, their perspective will change drastically when they pick the profoundly wrong house to invade in Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (trailer here), which opens nationwide today.

Detroit’s population has fallen below 700,000 yet its murder rate is eleven times what we have here in sprawling, unruly New York City. It is not uncommon to see one lone house standing amongst the razed ruins of formerly residential neighborhood. Rocky, her slimy boyfriend Money, and the torch-carrying Alex think they will find a big score inside one of them. Supposedly, the owner is a blind veteran, who received a large cash settlement when a well-heeled Grosse Pointe teenager killed his daughter in a hit-and-run.

Alex is sort of the inside man. His father works for a security company, so he has access to their alarm codes. Ordinarily, he insists on strict ground rules. The total haul should be under ten grand and include no cash. That way they can avoid grand larceny charges. This job will violate all his terms, but he agrees anyway for Rocky’s sake. In retrospect, that will be a profound mistake.

Needless to say, the old man is spryer than they anticipated. In fact, he is pretty chiseled. He also has rather sinister reasons for not wanting any visitors. When the lights are out, he clearly holds home field advantage.

Admittedly, making the terrifying old man a veteran is a real buzz kill, but at least Alvarez and co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues try not to belabor the point (unlike the aggressively disrespectful Dementia). Arguably, it is the quickest credible explanation for why an old blind cat would have a commando’s physique (being a cop wounded on the job could add unnecessary narrative complications).

In any event, there is a ton of sneaking around on tippy-toe in Breathe, which Alvarez executes quite adroitly. Ironically, some of the most intense sequences spell out of the inhospitable house, in part because they underscore just how on your own you are in some Detroit neighborhoods.

As always, Stephen Lang is massively hardnosed as the old man, whom he plays with extra crustiness and erratic twitchiness this time around. Jane Levy chokes back screams and holds her breath pretty effectively, but it is hard to get how she got involved with Money, Daniel Zovatto’s white trash caricature or Alex, the big nothing blandly portrayed by Dylan Minnette.

Alvarez keeps raising the stakes nicely, maintaining a tight, tense one-darned-thing-after-another pace. It is maybe not staggeringly original (one could argue it shares surface similarities with Viet Nguyen’s Crush the Skull and Adam Schindler’s Intruders, both of which are even better), but it gets the genre job done. Recommended for horror fans, Don’t Breathe opens in theaters across the country today (8/26), including the AMC Empire in New York.

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