Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Run time: 89 minutes
The Lowdown: As a lifelong fan of The Evil Dead, I can firmly attest that when the reboot/reimagining was announced and released in 2013, I had reservations. How could anyone clear the high bar set so many years before by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell?
Fede Alvarez did more than clear the bar. He did the franchise – and most importantly, the fans – proud.
Alvarez showed a solid eye for scene composition and a visceral thrill in goosing his audience with equal parts gore and white-knuckle suspense.
Those two qualities, in particular, return with a vengeance in his follow-up film, Don’t Breathe, a heart-pounding exercise steeped in genuine tension that showcases the worst possible way that a planned home invasion can go wrong.
Jane Levy shines as Rocky, a single mother in Detroit trying to make a better life for her and her young daughter, who participates in a string of robberies to make enough money to flee her dying city once and for all.
The group includes her boyfriend and her best friend. One of them is good-hearted, the other reckless and unpredictable.
The group’s latest target, a military veteran who lives by himself in a former thriving suburban neighborhood ravaged by Detroit’s financial collapse and foreclosure, looks like an easy mark. He’s blind and vulnerable with no neighbors to hear him call for help if things get heated. As played by Stephen Lang, his weathered skin gripping coiled muscles like a sheath, The Blind Man, as he’s known in the credits, is not exactly as he seems.
That becomes immediately clear as soon as the trio of would-be criminals finds their way inside his labyrinthian three-story home.
And it’s where Alvarez truly makes his mark.
Not since 2010’s Cold Sweat, the phenomenal thriller by writer-director Adrián García Bogliano, has a film utilized cramped and claustrophobic surroundings to such nerve-wracking effect.
Alvarez snakes his camera into the tightest crevices, allowing the terror felt by Rocky to flow from the screen directly to your couch. Whether she’s hiding in a closet in the dark, covering her mouth to muffle any slight sound that might allow The Blind Man’s amplified hearing to discern her location, or shimmying through a too-tight ventilation duct or discovering The Blind Man’s awful secret down in his subterranean basement, you feel as if you yourself are in her shoes.
It’s a masterful use of expertly placed camera angles, coupled with a thoroughly disquieting score by Roque Baños, and anchored by a wholly believable performance by Levy.
It’s impossible to guess what’s coming next, which is a wonderful surprise in a year filled with genre films that didn’t always succeed at circumventing expectations and delivering a gut punch when least expected.
And while I’m not always a fan of films that boldly, ambitiously leave the door open for a second helping in the form of a sequel, I can confidently say that you will want to see more of The Blind Man, which isn’t always the case when a film thinks it’s better than it is and assumes that audience reaction will warrant a follow-up story.
Don’t Breathe is the real deal. It’s lean, unflinching and brutal. Alvarez knows exactly what he wants to do to viewers and he never deviates from that path.
If you haven’t seen it already, it’s time to make time to settle down for the best, most uncomfortable viewing experience you’ve likely had in a while.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Jane Levy is smoking hot.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – The Blind Man. Yeah, that’s his name.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Baked in Brooklyn
Not to be Overlooked:
Time After Time (Warner Archive, 102 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): Malcolm McDowell as H.G. Wells. David Warner as Jack the Ripper. And Mary Steenburgen as a sexually-liberated liberal bank teller who ends up between them.
Director Nicholas Meyer’s 1979 anachronistic sci-fi thriller Time After Time is one of my all-time favorites from that era. It’s inventive – the titular time machine is incredibly detailed – and extremely funny. Watching McDowell as Wells try to put the moves on Steenburgen is a riot.
Plus it makes a salient point that is all too relevant today. What if Jack the Ripper was alive in modern times? Even in the 1970s, our world had become the equivalent of a playground for someone like him. How would such a man find new ways to remain the headline villain?
Time After Time is both thrilling and fun. It’s a classic example of a high-concept premise that actually works by treating its subject matter with respect, and intelligence. Modern films would be wise to revisit it and pay close attention. (Except to the part where McDowell as Wells tries to lay some love lines down. They should skip that part!)
Hell or High Water (Lionsgate, 122 minutes, R, DVD): They don’t make movies like Hell or High Water all that much anymore, and that is truly a crime.
If only more films were this smart, this poignant, this unconventional – the local multiplex would be a far better place.
Hell or High Water is a Texas-sized slice of machismo, dusted and coated in the sun-burnt, time-weathered Lone Star State tradition of thrusting the middle finger to anyone who doesn’t understand what it means to be born of the land and to have a cause worth dying for.
Powerfully penned by Taylor Sheridan, the crackerjack screenwriter behind 2015’s Sicario and its upcoming sequel, Soldado, and directed with equal measures of grace and exhilaration by England’s best export, film auteur David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water is the most unconventional bank robbery thriller you’ve ever seen.
Even when it hues close to normal film conventions, Mackenzie maintains a firm hand, carefully navigating the deep relationship between the Howard brothers, career-criminal Tanner (Ben Foster) and reluctant family man Toby (Chris Pine), as they execute a string of bank robberies across the Midwest that have both a believable and eerily topical purpose. Jeff Bridges delivers another Oscar-worthy performance as Marcus Hamilton, a grizzled, soon-to-retire lawman who becomes obsessed with cracking the case and putting the Howard boys behind bars or in a pine box.
It’s the quiet moments that hit the hardest – Tanner and Toby surveying the dusty family farm land that is about to be pilfered by the state bank; Toby drinking alone at a bar watching the local news alerts; Marcus sitting vigil outside a one-stop-light-town bank because he’s convinced that it’s next to be hit.
If there is justice in movie heaven, Hell or High Water should be a key contender at the next Academy Awards. Pine is fantastic as the tortured, brooding brother trying to keep life from falling apart. Foster is electrifying as the fatalistic brother who knows his expiration date is coming soon. And Bridges continues to remind us why he is one of our last true Hollywood legends. But more, Mackenzie and Sheridan deserve to be recognized as well for doing the unthinkable in a season full of belly-flop blockbusters.
They have bestowed upon us a gift to remind us all what makes movies so magnificent.