Don’t Breathe (2016)
This modern American crime thriller relies on some very old ideas for its story. But it brings them bang up to date, supplying some decent twists on the way.
Three young people are living unenviable lives, in the seedier side of Detroit. They dream of getting away from the grimy city, and making new lives in California. To fund the trip, they commit high-end burglaries, selling the things they steal to a local fence. They have a good edge over other burglars, as the father of one of the trio is a security company employee, with access to alarm codes and spare keys for the many properties managed by his organisation. So Alex takes the keys and codes, returning them to the office of his unsuspecting father after the robberies.
One day, the fence gives some information to Money, the tough member of the gang. He tells him about a war veteran, living in a house in a deserted district. It seems that he received a huge financial payout when his daughter was killed in a car accident, and has since lived a reclusive life. The three get together, and decide that this might just be the big job they need, to raise enough money to get to the west coast. Alex is reluctant at first, but he is in love with the female gang member, Rocky, so wants to impress her.
They go and scout out the house, discovering that the owner, Norman, is not only old, but also blind. Thinking he won’t give them too much trouble, they decide to come back in the middle of the night, and break in to find the cash he is supposed to be hoarding. He has a fierce Rottweiler guard dog, but they drug it with meat containing sleeping tablets. However, the house is like a fortress, and they have great difficulty getting in. Once inside, they have to search all over to try to find his hiding place for the cash, and we soon discover that although he may be blind, the rest of his senses are acute indeed.
They definitely chose the wrong house.
With no spoilers, it is a difficult film to review in detail. But it is enough to say that this war veteran is not about to give up his fortune easily, and the three friends find that they have seriously underestimated what they thought might be an easy burglary. What follows is an often nail-biting high tension film, with enough twists to keep me happy, and some genuine surprises, mixed in with familiar plot themes. Although much of the action is in darkness, it is never ‘too dark’ to enjoy what’s happening, something other film makers should take note of. The three burglars have very different personalities, and the young actors get that across very well throughout the film.
But the star is undeniably Norman, played to perfection by Stephen Lang, an actor who has made a good career mostly in villainous roles. Now in his 60s, he is ideally cast as the strong and determined veteran, who knows his own house so well, he can move around in total darkness with ease. He has very few lines, other than a lot of grunting and growling, but his screen presence is never less than imposing, and you can feel the fear of the young people as they try to escape his vengeance.
This is where the film scores, by changing the loyalties of the viewer seamlessly. We should be rooting for Norman. After all, he lost his daughter, and his home has been invaded by three burglars intent on stealing every penny he owns. But his relentless, almost robotic pursuit of the three inside his house makes him seem more like a blind Terminator. Like it or not, we start to fear for the safety of the burglars, instead of having sympathy for the victim of their crime. Then it switches back, then back again.
That’s clever, and I enjoyed the film more because of it.