This is some weird, twisted shit. Don’t groan when I say Don’t Breathe is a home-invasion thriller. Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez, of 2013’s gory Evil Dead remake, is as good as it gets when it comes to playing with the toys of the genre. The setup is pure cliché: Three teen burglars — Alex (Dylan Minnette), Rocky (Jane Levy), and her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) — break into the creepy Detroit home of a blind Iraq vet and try to rob the dude while he’s sleeping. Alex, who has an unrequited crush on Rocky, had previously stolen info on prime neighborhood targets from his father’s security-systems company. But the gang is slumming this time. It’s Money who hears that the vet, known as the Blind Man and played by an uber-terrifying Stephen Lang (Avatar), has a stash of cash lying around from a settlement in a reckless driving case that killed his daughter. Since the his house is smack dab in the middle of a block of abandoned Detroit housing (cue the social-awareness button), they’ll be no intrusive neighbors with smartphone cameras around when the trio drugs the dude’s Rottweiler, breaks into his place and gets away with $300,000 large. Easy peasy.
Of course, nothing is easy in this nasty piece of business. It turns out the Blind Man is hiding more than currency, something that becomes apparent when the teens make the dumb decision to hide in the padded basement. Their pursuer can’t see, but his hearing is superhero-level. That means Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues don’t rely much on dialogue to get their points across. (If you couldn’t guess why the movie is called Don’t Breathe, now you know.) Silence is not only golden in this house of horrors — it can save your life, and besides, no one can hear you scream. Not even the Saw films dreamed up anything this surgically scary. What makes this so memorably nerve-frying is the way Alvarez and cinematographer Pedro Luque use night-vision and every trick in the book and ones not invented yet to trap us in their vise. Claustrophobics, you’ve been warned.