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Movie Review: 'Don't Breathe'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - You may find your breathing suspended during Don't Breathe or you may not.

But you'll almost certainly find yourself clawing the armrest while you decide whom to root for.

That's us viewers. But what about the makers of this horror thriller?

Well, when you call your movie Don't Breathe, you announce your generic intentions and your target audience.

But this late-summer release, it turns out, is such a superior horror thriller from Uruguayan director Fede Alazrez (the remake of Evil Dead) that it makes the age-old home-invasion plot seem fresh.

(3 stars out of 4)

The premise: A group of financially strapped friends – Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto), and Alex (Dylan Minnette) – break into a house in Detroit to pull off the perfect heist.

Why perfect? Because a blind man (Stephen Lang) – make that a wealthy, blind man – lives there in a rundown section of town.

What could go wrong? Plenty.

Director Alvarez kicks off hi script, co-written with Rodo Savagues, not with the victim but with the thieves – which defies our expectations.

They have found out, having watched a news story on TV, that the sightless man of the house, this well-off hermit, having received a settlement following his daughter's fatal car accident, is sitting on $300,000 in cash.

But sightless is not the same as helpless. And they realize early on that the pickings will not be as easy as they at first assumed.

That's because the man of the house is military-trained, well prepared, and extraordinarily resourceful, with heightened other senses helping to compensate for his blindness. And he just might have a few unsettling secrets of his own.

So rooting interest, usually obvious and predictable in horror flicks, is much more fluid than usual in Don't Breathe.

Alvarez, trusting his material, doesn't reach very often for the expected shock-scare moments.

Instead, he concentrates on building tension as we squirm and contemplate who, if anyone, deserves to emerge from this house alive.

Oh, it's a cat-and-mouse survival game all right. But who's the cat and who are the mice is not so straightforward.

In the anxiety-inducing process, the briskly paced film, running under an hour-and-a-half, stresses character and atmosphere as the stumbling robbers encounter the shut-in Iraq war vet and we get to experience the proverbial edge of our seat as we witness the sadistic battle and decide who actually represents the lesser of evils.

Don't Breathe is brutal and intense and surprising and nail-bitingly suspenseful and absolutely relentless in its assault on our senses.

Yet the director grounds his tall tale in just enough reality to keep us plugged in and alert, as he tiptoes around any implausibility issues with superior, knowing craftsmanship and expert execution.

And several seemingly incidental plot points in the first act do pay off in the late going, although it might be mentioned that horror maestro Sam Raimi – who directed the original The Evil Dead and served as one of this film's producers -- apparently failed to notice that the third act of Don't Breathe isn't quite up to the aesthetic standards of the first two.

But it's close.

The performances are adroit and appropriate, including Lang's role, which is largely wordless but takes advantage of his imposing physical presence.

The film this one directly brings to mind, even if it doesn't quite match its impact, is another superior suspense thriller, 1967's unforgettable Wait Until Dark, which features Audrey Hepburn as a resourceful blind protagonist.

But Don't Breathe manages to develop its own idiosyncratic niche.

So we'll burgle 3 stars out of 4. In its own perverse way, Don't Breathe takes your breath away.

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