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Capone talks the tense and terrifying DON'T BREATHE, with director/co-writer Fede Alvarez!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

After taking an admirable and brutal crack at the EVIL DEAD remake in 2013, writer-director Fede Alvarez came back to Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures with a new horror film idea that had nothing to do with the supernatural and had very little blood, but sis absolutely one of the scariest, most tense experiences you’ll have in the theater this year. Set in Detroit, DON’T BREATHE is about three young punks (played by Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) who set their sites on breaking into the home of who they think is a helpless old blind man (Stephen Lang) in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. What they quickly discover is that this old man is not so helpless, and within a matter of minutes, the tables are turned and shit gets very real.

I had the chance to sit down with Alvarez at the SXSW Film Festival to talk about the film, the awesomeness of Stephen Lang, and where he got the idea for the story. The film goes places I certainly never saw coming, and did I mention that it’s scary as hell? Please enjoy my talk with Fede Alvarez…

Capone: Tell me about pitching Sam Raimi on this original idea. Was that any different than the pitch you gave him for your version of EVIL DEAD?

Fede Alvarez: Well, yeah it was definitely different because EVIL DEAD was more him saying one day, “I think you’re the perfect to direct an EVIL DEAD movie.” So I had the task to crack it and come up with a take, and he was like, “You have the original movies, and you have the book and you have the cabin, and that’s all you need to have” and then we have to crack it. But still, it was very, very hard because I think the original movies are awesome. I’ve still got to take the right elements from them and add something new; I was very naive, honestly. And while I was writing, people online were saying, “It’s going to suck.” Let us finish writing it first. It was a completely different experience.

But all the work I did on EVIL DEAD gave me a relationship with them, with Sam and all his team, and it put me in a place where they were ready to trust me with another movie. And I think one day, I was driving back from Comic-Con in San Diego with Rodo [Sayagues], my cowriter, and we were just thinking “What are we going to do next?” We started thinking about themes and ideas that scared us, and we self imposed a bunch of rules that was a reaction to EVIL DEAD, like “I don’t want it to be a remake. I don’t want anybody to say that you can’t beat the classics.” Well, there’s nothing to beat here, just myself. “And the fact that you threw buckets of blood to the screen, of course it’s going to be shocking.” Great, fine. Let’s not do blood, then. Let’s do it without blood. “And EVIL DEAD was so shocking and in your face that there wasn’t a lot of room for suspense.” Okay, let’s do it all about suspense. So some of those rules were self imposed, and we wanted to create a story about work at that level, and also we didn’t want it to be supernatural because we thought that was a trend and we wanted to stay away from that trend.

Capone: I was going to ask you if you were more interested in making a human being the monster rather than a monster being the monster.

FA: No doubt. Though the EVIL DEAD experience, I became good friends with Robert Rodriguez here in town, and he told me that he always tries to spot what the trend is and run the other direction, which makes a lot of sense. It’s the only way to do something that feels fresh in the context of what you’re seeing. So that’s why we knew that it shouldn’t be supernatural, though I think when people are watching the movie they’re not sure at first if it is or not, right?

Capone: Not at first, right.

FA: At first, you don’t know where it’s going to go, if this guy is going to have something—

Capone: Especially last night, we knew nothing about the movie, including the title [the film screening at SXSW untitled; the title DON’T BREATHE was revealed at the premiere].

FA: But that’s what I love about it.

Capone: That’s the way to do it. It reminded me of growing up, and you go into a movie and you’ve maybe seen a poster or one trailer, and that’s it.

FA: Well for me, the experience was, there was this video store in town where we would rent everything out, and it just got to a point where—I’m sure you’ve been through this—they ran out of everything. We were just waiting for new movies. So you went to that bizarre area of movies that you’ve never seen or heard of, and you’re like, “What is this? Just like pick one.” You like the title, you read the back, you take it home, and that for me was EVIL DEAD “What is this? It might be good.” So I love that about last night, just giving everybody an experience. You don’t do that. It’s very hard to watch a movie without knowing anything about it.

Capone: It’s interesting how you treat the upstairs and the downstairs as two very different worlds. When the kids enter the house, you give us a tour of the whole place—the ground floor and upstairs—in one take, so the geography is very clear to us for the most part. Downstairs, it feels three times as big, and you turn the lights off at one point, so you really don’t know where we are, and it’s far more terrifying being down there.

FA: [laughs] It’s not bigger. It’s actually the same size as the house.

Capone: I’m just saying because we don’t know, we haven't previewed it before things start happening, it just seems like it’s a maze and there’s that weird section that I won’t talk about, but it’s completely different from the rest. Did you mean it to feel like two completely different environments?

FA: Yeah, that’s why we didn’t include it on the first run. We cheated a little bit in that aspect, but I think it’s a good thing, As a storyteller, you’re almost like a magician, right? You’re supposed to show your sleeves all the time, but obviously a magician is always tricking you, right? But the more the magician looks like he’s being honest about what he’s going to do, the better the trick. And here’s a little bit of that. The whole purpose of that shot is to show the key players of the movie, like look at this hammer. It’s going to come back. Look at this door with this lock, look at this skylight over there. Every part is going to come back, and you know it, the audience knows it.

As soon as you see the hammer, you know it’s going to play a part, and it takes a while to really come into play, but still you know. That anticipation, as an audience, I always love when they make me part of what the game is going to be. So basically, we show almost the whole house, and people are like, “That’s it. That’s the house. That’s the space the movie’s going to play.” And suddenly we go into the cellar, and you go like, “Shit. I don’t know that place. Wait a second, hold me.” You don't want them to walk so fast in a place that you don’t know.

Capone: And then you turn the downstairs into a black-and-white movie for a while, which only makes it worse.

FA: [laughs] We did the first test with Jane [with night vision], and she was blonde on camera and she looks completely like REPULSION, like one of those classic Polanski films, completely blown out and freaking out. I loved the look of that black and white. But you do have colors when they shoot the guns. I don’t know if you noticed, but every time he shoots the gun “Boom!”, color comes in and comes out.

Capone: Stephen Lang does military better than just about any other actor. He’s done it before, but he’s your gift. He’s the thing that people are going to walk away from this movie and go “Holy crap!” This is like a theater piece, because it’s all done in a very limited space, and there’s almost no dialogue for him. Talk about connecting with him.

FA: I love when I watch an actor play a character in a movie that benefits from all of the characters he’s played before. CARLITO’S WAY wouldn’t be CARLITO’S WAY if it wasn’t Pacino and SCARFACE didn’t exist, right? So for me, it always works when I know he played this guy before that. On some level, it’s a continuation of the character. So for him, I loved that he played that guy before, but never this guy in this way. He’s always powerful and very strong, and it was great taking his eyes away and see how he’s going to do the things he usually does, and I think he surprised people in a good way.

Personally, I feel he was born to play this part. We’ve become good friends. I was texting him yesterday, and he was reading some reviews and was happy. There are very few people that can look frail and fragile because of his age at the beginning, but then be badass like he is, out of nowhere, and have that presence where he doesn’t have to talk much. Everything is in his eyes. He’s there and you fear him. You understand. He does some fucked-up stuff in the movie, but still, people connect to him. At least I connect with him.

Capone: As an audience, our alliances shift as the film goes on.

FA: That I think is important, and I don’t know who said it, but I read something ages ago the fact that movies, particularly lately, tend to spoon feed you who you have to root for. “He’s a good guy, he’s a bad guy, he’s a douche bag.” You have no choice. You’re manipulated to like him or hate these people. I think “Game of Thrones” is a good example of how they to play with an audience so much that “Now you’re going to love this guy, and now you’re going to hate him back again.” You have no choice. Your emotions are so strong. I love when they do that. But this movie, I was like really going to try to give a scenario to the audience where they wouldn’t know. Because based on the facts, these kids seem like really bad, and Lang doesn’t seem too bad, but that even changes a few times in the movie when you learn what you learn.

Capone: Well, congratulations and best of luck.

FA: Nice to meet you, man.

-- Steve Prokopy
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