They give away the whole movie in the trailers.
Predatory, and quite pretty, teens try to rob a blind old hermit living a desolate corner of Detroit. He turns the tables on them, turns the lights out and they find his awful “secret.”
But damned if “Don’t Breathe” doesn’t work. If you’ve despaired of ever going to a movie again without having to listen to inane chatter amidst the scattered cell-phone screens lit up with texting addicts, this is the horror movie for you.
What happens on the screen spreads to the audience. The silence, like the fear, is contagious.
Jane Levy (“Evil Dead”), Dylan Minette (“Scandal”) and Daniel Zovatto (“It Follows”) are dead-enders looking for a way out of Detroit’s urban wasteland. They burgle houses like seasoned crooks, because Alex (Minette) is the son of a guy who works at one of those home security firms. They know the pass codes of most every house they hit.
Alex crushes on Rocky (Levy), whose miserable home life and endangered little sister are reason enough to want to flee to California. But she’s hooked up with a real hoodlum, Money (Zovatto).
Money has the underworld connections, the corn rows and the rusted Camaro necessary to do the deeds. And he’s ruthless, trashing the houses of the better off, urinating on pricey carpets, the works. Alex is careful, knowing the difference between larceny and grand larceny. Keep the amounts stolen low. Money isn’t.
Their “one last score” is a blind veteran living in an otherwise abandoned neighborhood, a guy who collected a big cash settlement for an accident years before. They’ll drug his rottweiler, gas his bedroom, find his stash and split for California.
But things don’t go according to plan. They never do.
Director Fede Alvarez helmed the recent remake of “Evil Dead,” and he and his co-writer (Rodo Sayagues) aren’t above dropping cheap jolts at us, every few minutes, like clockwork. They’re heavy on the foreshadowing, as Alvarez’s camera tracks past big, forbidding padlocks, menacing tools and the pistol he keeps lashed under the blind man’s bed.
What they get absolutely right is the silence, the quavering fear of the three as they try to let this burly, blind and armed ex-soldier (Stephen Lang of “Gettysburg”) lurch past them in a big, rambling house he knows by heart.
And there’s the darkness — scenes shot in the grays of night-vision goggles, as our wide-eyed young actors flee from the “monster” they’ve intruded on and who is now hunting them down in a house he knows, and they do not.
Job One for any competent horror director is getting the right terrified reactions from his or her cast, and Alvarez manages that, and how. The saucer-eyed Levy does that, covering her own mouth at the horrors she sees, the horrors she fears and the horrors she realizes she’s bringing down upon them all.
I could have done without a talky, explain everybody’s motivations third act. But there’s no getting around the crowd-pleasing nature of the bloody, vengeful and self-righteous wrath that rains down upon one and all in the finale.
The only times you’ll breathe in “Don’t Breathe” is when you can’t fight the urge to shout instructions to the embattled characters on the screen.
MPAA Rating: R for terror, violence, disturbing content, and language including sexual references
Running time: 1:28