Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my first review out of SXSW 2016, which happens to be for what was, up until tonight, known as the Untitled Fede Alvarez/Ghost House Thriller. The movie is officially and appropriately called DON'T BREATHE.
I also happened to be recruited to be the host of the Q&A after the screening, something I rarely agree to do without a chance to see the movie beforehand. If Fede Alvarez had made a shitty movie that post-screening Q&A would have been super awkward, but thankfully he made a great, tense, smart thriller and the Q&A wasn't ruined.
You might think that a Fede Alvarez movie from Ghost House (aka Sam Raimi's company) would be another splatterfest like his Evil Dead reboot, but I'm happy to report that Don't Breathe is anything but. In fact there's almost no blood in the movie. There's other bodily fluids in disturbing doses, but very little blood. This movie is not about shocking you with gore, it's about using sound and camera perspective to create the kind of tension that forces you to inch forward in your seat so you can prepare yourself for the release you know is coming either in the form of a scare or a crazy reveal.
The story is pretty straight forward. A trio of desperate Detroit youths think they find a big score that could get them out of their shit lives when they read about a local blind war vet who received a big cash settlement after a tragic accident involving his daughter. He lives in a big but worn down place in the middle of an abandoned block in Detroit.
This seemingly helpless blind war vet is played by Stephen Lang, which should tell how much these kids didn't think this plan through.
Evil Dead's Jane Levy reteams with Alvarez to play the lead, Rocky, a girl in a bad situation that could destroy her and her young sister if they can't afford to get away. She's the leader of the robbers, comprised of her flashy boyfriend, Money, (played by It Follows' Daniel Zovatto) and a friend, Alex, played by Dylan Minnette.
I say friend, but it's clear that Dylan's character is kinda the Duckie to her Andie. It's a great role for Minnette, who up to this point I've mostly associated with bullies... probably mostly thanks to his dickish turn in Let Me In. He's the moral compass of the movie, which is strange considering he's the key member who helps these guys steal shit.
Naturally, they learn a little too late that Stephen Lang, blind or not, is not the guy whose house you want to break in to. Instead of it turning into SAW or something, Alvarez very smartly lays out the landscape of the house within the first two minutes we're inside it and utilizes building tension and tiny reveals to make the situation worse and worse by the minute.
Lang makes a good cat to chase these mice around his crazy maze. With all of three or four lines of dialogue in the first two acts of the movie, he makes an imposing figure purely by action and body language. With a turn of the head you know he's figured something out. With a quick tap on an overhead wooden beam you know he's counting out every step, knowing every twist and turn in all of his multi-storied house.
They also very smartly don't make him Daredevil. His hearing seems to be a little more acute than average, but he doesn't have super human senses, which makes the cat and mouse game even that much more believable.
Levy makes a hell of a foil for Lang and is able to make the desperateness of her situation play with minimal backstory. She's not a trapped prey animal, but a predator in her own right.
Naturally, I don't want to spoil the turns this movie takes, but I will say that there's more to it than a few greedy people and a pissed off blind man. The movie gets pretty damn dark and isn't afraid to beat the shit out of the entire cast. Without context I will say that you'll never look at a turkey baster the same way again.
With this movie Alvarez shows there's more to him than a good gorehound. He uses all the tools in a director's toolbox to make something classy in its fucked-up-ness. The sound design is incredible, his use of extended silence make for ridiculously tense sequences. Production design is fantastic as well, the house being a character in and of itself. And his use of camera is restrained, but fun. I got a Hitchcock vibe out of the way he used visual storytelling to hint at things that drove the tension into overdrive.
I believe Sony's releasing this one in August and I recommend it very highly. Lang by himself is worth the price of admission and as an added bonus you get a strong female lead, some fucked up brutality and the best animal jump scare in years.
Time for a little bit of sleep before what's shaping up to be an epic Day 2 of SXSW. Catch you folks later!