As an arbitrary rule of thumb, horror movies exhorting the audience not to do something tend more to the bad than the good: setting aside Don't Look Now (obviously) and the perfectly solid on't be Afraid Of The Dark, the list of Don't... movies has not been encouraging, with mostly awful entries such as Don't Go IN The Woods, Don't Open Till Christmas, Don't Answer The Phone and too many others. Happily, Fede Alvarez' Don’t Breathe more than redresses the balance: a most agreeably twisted little thriller which ratchets up the tension over a tight 88 minutes on a minimal scale: a small cast of characters in (mostly) one location over one single night.
Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three petty burglars in the dead-end area of Detroit: the decide to break into the house of a former Army veteran who is rumoured to have a substantial amount of cash in the house: enough for them to get out of town and start a new life in California. He's old, he lives alone, he has no neighbours. They're not even put off when they discover the man (Stephen Lang) is blind - just because he's blind doesn't mean he's a saint, they reason - but it's only when they get in there that they discover he's nowhere near as easy a target as they thought. And he has the most disturbing of secrets in the basement....
Alvarez' 2013 so-so remake of The Evil Dead was fantastically gloopy and gory but never actually scary; Don’t Breathe skews completely the other way, with its 15 certificate in the UK covering the swearing as much as the violence and its nominal villain being a genuinely sinister (and largely wordless) presence. It is slightly muddled in that our three supposed heroes are genuine serial criminals, and one of them is armed, so it's frankly difficult to feel that much sympathy when their disabled victim quite rightly fights back against home invaders, at least until those basement horrors are revealed. And like many of these films, it sometimes feels implausible that human beings could sustain that amount of physical violence - falls, cuts, gunshots, repeated blunt force blows to the head - and hobble away with mere scratches; something you expect in a Bond film or a superhero epic but not a small scale film about "real people".
With most of Don’t Breathe taking place in the semi-lit house (why would he ever need the lights on?), and with one sequence in complete darkness (actually a kind of ghostly grey night-vision effect for audience purposes), the film is best seen in a cinema with as little ambient light as possible. (The downside of this is the inevitable errant cellphone usage will be even more of a distraction than usual.) It's a lean, stripped-down thriller that doesn't waste any time on irrelevancies, delivers on the suspense as well as some perfectly timed jumps, and has enough nastiness on show without wallowing in it. Do see.