Don't Breathe Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
At first, Don’t Breathe is an admirably gritty and visceral thriller, with a simple concept: A group of teens break into an isolated house to steal a cache of money, only to be confronted by the owner, a blind military veteran who’s much more dangerous than he first appears. Director and co-writer Fede Alvarez (the 2013 Evil Dead remake) establishes the layout of the house effectively, carefully highlighting objects and areas that will become important later. The characters’ motivations are evenly matched: The burglars are misguided kids trying to pull themselves out of poverty, while the blind man is grieving the death of his daughter in a car accident. Alvarez sets them against each other in this decaying, labyrinthine space, creating a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game with minimal fuss.
And then he ruins the whole thing with increasingly gross and unbelievable twists, turning the blind man (Stephen Lang) into a cross between Daredevil and Jigsaw. Even the scares that were effective early on lose their power when repeated, and Alvarez cheats the audience with fake-out deaths and false endings. He also tacks on sappy emotional drama for main character Rocky (Jane Levy) that comes off as disingenuous and manipulative. What started as an intense, gripping thriller becomes a ridiculous cartoon, with a laughable ending that suggests a later Saw sequel.