The biggest thing that needs to be said about the late summer horror thriller “Don’t Breathe” is that, if there is any justice, Stephen Lang should be in serious contention for end-of-the-year hardware as The Blind Man. Not since Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw in the “Saw” movies has a horror villain made such an immediate, indelible impression on me, but Lang goes beyond that. Bell’s Jigsaw is a fascinating twist on the never-dying killer that helped fuel horror cinema in the ’80s, but Lang’s is even stronger because of the way the character is set up. The film begins as the story of three 20-somethings who have taken to crime in Detroit. The female in the trio, Rocky (Jane Levy), needs the money to try and get out of town, and out from her mooching mother and her newest boyfriend, and hopes to take her younger sister along with her to California. Her boyfriend, Money, gets the jobs, and Alex gets the access (all of the homes they break into use his father’s security company). One day, they get what seems like a “can’t miss” opportunity that could net them six figures at a Gulf War veteran’s home, but when they get into, they find that this particular Blind Man is much more than meets the eye, and they are locked in a battle for survival.
The previous film Fede Alvarez directed was his update of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead,” which I was not a fan of. Now, he’s been given the chance by Raimi and his Ghost House production house to do something original, and the screenplay he co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues is inspired in its simplicity. It deals with the gradual escalation of a situation and shows Alvarez as being more than adept at wringing suspense out of a simple, clever premise. It helps that as The Blind Man, Lang (best known as the hardass bad guy in “Avatar”) elevates the role by making us feel something more than scared out of our wits by this unexpectedly capable killing machine. (Of course, as a vet, that shouldn’t necessarily be surprising to either us or the characters.) The Blind Man is both sympathetic figure as well as someone who has taken the emotions that drive him, and allowed himself to go to some very dark places to find peace. It’s best to go into this film knowing as little as possible so that the film can take you by surprise as it did me. It starts to prolong it’s inevitable conclusion in the last 20 minutes or so, but that matters little when the film as a whole is clicking on all the terrifying cylinders it needs to be in order to succeed.