[Screen It]

"DON'T BREATHE"
(2016) (Jane Levy, Stephen Lang) (R)


Read Our Full Content Movie Review for Parents

QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: Three young burglars get more than they bargained for when they break into a blind man's home in a deserted Detroit neighborhood hoping to steal a large sum of cash from him.
PLOT:
Rocky (JANE LEVY), Alex (DYLAN MINNETTE) and Money (DANIEL ZOVATTO) are three friends who are desperate to get out of the poverty and dead-end nature of their bleak Detroit lives. Rocky, in particular, wants to move to California with her younger sister in order to get away from their abusive mother, with Money definitely going too and Alex being on the fence about joining them. In hopes of making some escape money, the three have been burglarizing homes protected by security systems installed by Alex's dad, meaning he knows how to deactivate the alarms and allow them easy entry and getaways.

Their latest and potentially most lucrative robbery is targeting a blind man who lives alone in an otherwise deserted and completely run-down neighborhood. Word is that he's sitting on several hundred thousand dollars in cash stemming from a wrongful death settlement involving his daughter sometime in the past. Knowing they can deactivate the alarm and figuring a blind man wouldn't prove to be much of an obstacle should they have a run-in with him, the three break into the house.

Little do they know, however, that the Blind Man (STEPHEN LANG), a war veteran, is more resourceful than they ever imagined and one-hundred percent determined not to let them rob him. When he ends up locking all of them inside his place, they must contend with trying to avoid the armed and violent man who has no intention of letting any of them out alive.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Back in 1967, Audrey Hepburn received an Oscar Nomination for her performance in "Wait Until Dark," a thriller based on the stage play of the same name from the year before. In it, she plays a blind woman who must contend with nefarious sorts who've entered her apartment with ill-intent. All of which culminates in an exciting conclusion where she tries to use her lack of sight to her advantage by having her place go dark and thus create an even playing field with the bad guys (led by Alan Arkin).

Using that as likely inspiration, writer/director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues have decidedly upped the ante and turned the tables in "Don't Breathe." It's a tense, edge of your seat crackerjack thriller where a trio of burglars pick the wrong house and blind man inside to rob, only to have him turn the tables and make them the victims.

In doing so, it sort of plays out like a haunted house thriller but with a flesh and blood "monster" rather than some supernatural entity after the small cast of young people. And by making the two central characters both victim and villain, it plays out in a terrific sea of grayness rather than the usual, straightforward black and white, good vs. bad.

The story revolves around a teen (Jane Levy) who hopes for a better life for herself and her younger sister. But they're stuck in a bad section of Detroit where their future is as bleak as their surroundings, with a psychologically abusive mother who used to lock Rocky in the trunk of the car for simply crying.

Rocky has an escape plan, however, and with the help of her boyfriend, Money (Daniel Zovatto), and platonic friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), they've been breaking into homes protected by security systems installed by the latter's dad. He's smart enough to know they must keep such thefts in the petty range should they ever get caught. But Money has set his eyes on a big fish he believes will be as easy as shooting one in a barrel.

He's learned that a man in an otherwise deserted and dilapidated neighborhood is sitting on lots of cold hard cash. The fact that he lost his sight during the Iraq War and that he got that $300,000 from a wrongful death settlement involving his daughter doesn't deter the three. They just see the cash as their ticket out and a way to move to California. And when they finally encounter the man (Stephen Lang -- not ever given a character name), they see him as old, somewhat feeble and easy victim.

What they don't anticipate, though, is him being a tough and resourceful war vet who's highly protective of his money, has no intention of calling the police for help, and has a few disturbing secrets of his own. After offing one of the trio and figuring there are likely additional accomplices, he traps the remaining two inside the house.

What follows is a cat and mouse thriller that occasionally nearly borders on the preposterous (in terms of the layout of parts of the house and the fact that bad thing after bad thing keep piling up for the criminals turned victims), but is otherwise highly effective in concept and execution of its fairly simple and straightforward story.

Proof positive -- at least at our advance screening -- was the number of people talking back to the screen, telling the criminal-turned victims what to do and where not to go inside the house. Audience members talking during a film is usually a big bugaboo for me, but here it sort of helped exacerbate the feeling of a boardwalk haunted house attraction brought to life on the big screen.

Thankfully, the characters mostly avoid the dumb behavior found in such flicks ("Wait here while I go into this dark room without turning on the lights") and thus everything pretty much plays out in a far more believable fashion.

And part of the fun, if you will, is the fact that -- despite earlier listing it as a slight and occasional detriment -- bad things, complications, and developments keep piling up on the surviving duo who simply have one goal and that's to get out of the house. The performances are good all around (although there's no chance anyone will receive an Oscar nomination like Hepburn so many years ago) as are the tech credits, story development, and direction.

Simply put, if you like home-based thrillers but have tired of them involving supernatural entities, the highly efficient "Don't Breathe" might just have you holding your breath while watching things unfold. It rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed August 23, 2016 / Posted August 26, 2016


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