FOR A GENRE known for headbanging excess, it’s often the subtler things—rhythm, geography, use of negative space—that can put a horror movie over the top. The new home invasion movie Don’t Breathe displays a remarkable sense of when to hold back and build tension, and when to go ferociously all in. Throw in a terrifyingly committed performance by Stephen Lang and you’ve got the kind of thing that gets an entire audience giggling at their collective discomfort.
Set within a particularly apocalyptic section of Detroit, the plot follows a trio of not-very-nice twentysomethings (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) who hatch a scheme to burgle the house of a blind veteran (Lang). Too late, they discover their target has a skillset that puts Daredevil to shame. Oh, and also a dog. Don’t forget the goddamned dog.
Director/co-writer Fede Alvarez, who previously helmed 2013’s gleefully excessive Evil Dead remake, pulls a 180 here, slowly setting all the pieces in place and utilizing the various areas of his cavernous set for sadistic tension. A fantastic early establishing shot tells you virtually everything you need to know about the location, including where all of the potentially dangerous objects reside. Pay attention: Most of them will get used.
This is all pretty silly, admittedly, and Don’t Breathe occasionally struggles to maintain its grip, most notably during a late plot development that threatens to futz the premise’s already tenuous connection to reality. Thankfully, whenever the momentum starts to slack, Lang is there to forcibly pull it taut. An actor who’s always shown an iron level of control, he delivers a Pantheon boogeyman here, conveying with every thought and gesture that this is absolutely not a man with whom to screw. This movie should be played loud.