Nobody’s sent Fede Alvarez the memo about toning it down. This Uruguayan horror director presses on as if ‘torture porn’ were still a thing, not something half-remembered from the naughty noughties. Indulging his sick, 70s-grindhouse interests, ‘Don’t Breathe’ could have been as big as ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel’ if it came out 10 years ago.
In the smarter-than-it-had-to-be script, co-written by Alvarez with his longtime colleague Rodo Sayagues, three twentysomethings scrape out dead-end thrills in burned-out Detroit, breaking into houses like a low-budget variation on Hollywood’s Bling Ring. There’s impulsive Money (Daniel Zovatto), intense Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Rocky (Jane Levy), the bleach-blond gal pal you can already tell is tougher than all of them. When they learn about a local blind man who has a big cash settlement stuffed in his safe, they descend on his home one night.
‘Don’t Breathe’ sets us up to hate these kids, so when the Blind Man (that’s actually how he’s credited onscreen) turns out to be a resourceful war veteran, the movie becomes all about taking retribution on a generation that should know better. Alvarez quiets his movie down to a game of cat and mouse, a luxury in a climate where horror is all about maximum volume. He has one too many twists, including a reversal that’s too nauseating to type, but for the most part you’re in the hands of a capable lunatic with a good tale to tell.