Shocking and enthralling, Alvarez’s masterful, visually stunning thriller maintains a frenzied pace to the last chilling minute.
In Don’t Breathe writer-director Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with an unapologetically brutal and twisted horror-thriller that pits a trio of thieves against an unexpectedly dangerous adversary.
In this second feature film from Alvarez (Evil Dead) and legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi, a trio of friends breaks into the house of a blind recluse confident of an easy score only to find themselves in a terrifying life-or-death struggle.
In 2013, writer and director Alvarez made his mark in the horror movie world with a bone-chilling reboot of Sam Raimi’s classic, Evil Dead.
In his new film, Don’t Breathe , he explores different but equally terrifying territory in a shocking, suspense-driven tale. Alvarez once again joins forces with producers Raimi and Rob Tapert of Ghost House Pictures for a home- invasion story that blurs the line between horror and thriller. “It has elements of both,” says the director.
“I wouldn’t call it a hundred percent horror or thriller. But it has a bunch of very scary moments for sure.”
In Don’t Breathe , three friends who commit a string of perfectly planned robberies decide to pull off one final heist when they hear about a blind man living alone in a deserted Detroit neighborhood.
“But they are missing some crucial information,” Alvarez says. “This man is unusually resourceful and completely ruthless, to the point where he seems almost superhuman. He’s not going to let them get the money without a fight to the finish.”
Making Evil Dead, his first full-length feature, with Raimi and Tapert’s guidance was an unforgettable experience, says Alvarez. “So we decided to do it again. Sam has been a great mentor. He is not just a great director and producer. He is really a fanboy himself with a firm grasp of his audience.”
Raimi says Alvarez is not only a visionary director, but a consummate collaborator as well. “He possesses a rare combination of great storytelling instincts and the craftsmanship to execute his ideas,” says the prolific filmmaker, whose directing credits include the blockbuster Spider-Man trilogy as well as A Simple Plan, Drag Me to Hell, and the original Evil Dead Trilogy.
“When he brought us this project, we jumped at the opportunity to work with him again. From the beginning, Fede had a distinct vision of an edgy, character-driven thriller for a modern audience. And introducing a blind character opened doors for him to build tension through both visuals and sound design.”
Alvarez and his co-writer, Rodo Sayagues, set out to script a movie that was nail-bitingly suspenseful, but without an abundance of blood or gore.
“Horror is a genre that I love,” the director says. “But this is more complex. The scares are one hundred percent based on the situation and on things that could really happen. To me, that’s much more frightening.”
Tapert agrees, adding, “ Don’t Breathe puts a new spin on the suspense thriller by creating a scenario where the characters’ senses are heightened. It avoids cliché by engaging the audience in a moral quandary. Who is right and who is wrong? And you don’t know exactly how the story will end, which only adds to the tension.”
The script’s three fully fleshed-out protagonists appealed to executive producer Mathew Hart. “They are each at a dead end and desperate to change their lives,” he says. “That leads them to a house where they believe there is enough money to help them do that. In a sense it’s a morality play about decision making set in a great thriller environment.”
None of the characters is completely admirable, and that is by design, says Alvarez. “I don’t like it when filmmakers force me to pick a side. A lot of the stories I see are very manipulative. I don’t need to be spoon-fed who is good or bad. Let me choose who I like. We show you an array of characters and let you decide. No one is a saint here. Everyone has shady motives. You have to pick the one that you connect with.”
Working with a co-writer with skills that complemented Alvarez’s was key to the creative process. The director estimates that he and Sayagues agree about 50 percent of the time.
“That means that another 50 percent we do not, which works great for us. He goes places I would never think of and vice versa. That creates unique material. I create order and he brings in the anarchy. The goriest, most over-the-top moments always come from Rodo.”
Alvarez’ collaborators all agree that the filmmaker gives every idea due consideration.
“Because he is also the writer, he knows the beats of the story intimately,” says Hart.
“He seems to effortlessly get the right performances out of the cast, and he’s never indecisive or unsure. But he welcomes input and quite often will incorporate other people’s ideas. And he is always very quick to give credit. It’s a great environment to work in.”
Tapert predicts Don’t Breathe will be recognized as one of the most suspenseful movies modern audiences have ever seen.
“It is a thrill to see it with a whole theater of moviegoers sitting on the edge of their seats, literally holding their breath in anticipation,” he says.
“I hope audiences walk out of the theater energized after having survived this relentless experience.”