Nearly fifty years after a blind Audrey Hepburn tip-toed around her living-room as a maniacal Alan Arkin lay whispering in wait in 1967's Wait Until Dark, Don't Breathe (which could've and probably should've been titled Wait Until Light) has come along and flipped the script - the Blind are now the Victimizers! How far we've come.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves - the pretty young thing's still the victimized. We're not going too nuts or anything. At least Jane Levy's spunky leading lady (under the gender-trouncing moniker of Rocky) gets to be morally comprised in a way Audrey never dared - Rocky is, in the immortal words of Dawn Davenport, a shit-kicker and a thief and she'd like to be, uh, if not famous then at least very very rich.
In an origin story remarkably similar to that of Star in Andrea Arnold's American Honey (now there's a double-bill) Rocky wants to take her younger sibling and run away from a home-life full of neglect and boozy abuse. But instead of taking up with Shia LaBeouf's rat-tail and magazine sales, Rocky's limited options include, well, a shitty boyfriend of her own, but this one thinks robbing the local blind dude's their map to the stars.
It is, as the saying goes, not. Instead all it gets them is locked in a Detroit shit-hole, bars on the windows and horrible secrets buried under the floorboards, with a sightless psychopath and his dutiful Cujo stalking their every exhalation.
As an exercise in old-fashioned genre stand-bys - sound design and staging - Don't Breathe has some terrific technique going on. First and foremost early in the film director Fede Alvarez, in an efficiently mapped-out unbroken shot, gives us a clear lay-out of the entire house (give or take the nooks and crannies everybody eventually scuttles into) - it can never be over-stressed how vital it is that we know where the hell the hunter and the hunted are at first, so you can later surprise us by where they aren't.
And as you can imagine a movie whose very title is centered on the weight of air itself is all about the buzz and hum and creaking door-frames and pressurized foot-falls of its soundtrack. All the better to have a slobbering rottweiler come suddenly roaring into a still and silent frame. I actually think most of my favorite sound tricks involved the dog - there's a shot late in the movie where his distant appearance makes for a superbly restrained punchline.
If only "restrained" was a word I could apply thicker across the skin of this wild, unwieldy beast of a movie - it's less than an hour and a half long but it feels like there's far too much plotting; what horrors lay beneath the blind man's backstory never cohere into much of any sense. A dead daughter, drunk-driving, and the bridge-too-far surprise appearance of a turkey baster dripping with liquid manliness -- oh, my. (Although Levy's delivery of the line, "You can't do this to me," is hilariously dead-pan.) At a certain point the filmmakers just seem to toss more and more onto the fire-pit hoping not everything gets incinerated, but there's definitely a burning sensation.