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Home»Features»Thriller Thursdays: Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe is a claustrophobic drama with an edge-of-the-seat spin»

Thriller Thursdays: Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe is a claustrophobic drama with an edge-of-the-seat spin

Stephen Lang’s compelling performance in Don’t Breathe gives the film its thumping pace and ensures audiences remain glued to their seats through its runtime.

Thriller Thursdays: Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe is a claustrophobic drama with an edge-of-the-seat spin
  • Sunil Bhandari

Last Updated: 10.51 AM, Jan 11, 2022


Intro: In our new weekly column, Thriller Thursdays, we’ll recommend specially-curated thrillers that’ll send a familiar chill down your spine.

Three friends in a desolate Detroit decide to break into a blind Iraq war veteran's home for what they think will be easy pickings, knowing him to be alone in a large neighbourhood. But in the dark penumbra of a crumbling house, they can't imagine what will hit them. Because in the confines of a closed dark house, within the familiarity of the angles of the walls, the specific knowledge of the switch and the swish of the imprisoned air, lie major advantages even for a blind denizen.

Thrillers often require generous space to get their kinetic energy going, but horror films masquerading as thrillers revel in the shrinking of space. From the time Sam Peckinpah terrorised us in the confines of a room in his pathbreaking Straw Dogs, similar films have tumbled out - think of Gerald's Game, Hush, Panic Room, Carnage - and each have induced big scares in small rooms. And director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead, The Girl in the Spider's Web) holds the flimsy story of Don't Breathe by its throat and gives it a claustrophobic edge-of-the-seat spin.


Rocky (Jane Levy) is a girl desperate to break away from a joyless home comprising an unsympathetic mother and her unbearable husband, to make a new life with her little sister. Her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) is bold to the edge of being cocky. And they are friends with Alex (Dylan Minnette), whose father, a security officer, has keys to all houses in the neighbourhood.

They use these keys to rob homes, careful to steal only that amount necessary to keep them under the legal radar. But Rocky and Money are desperate for one big break-in, to permanently change their lives. The opportunity, fortunately, comes by, when Money discovers a blind war veteran, living alone, who recently had a windfall through an accident settlement. Easy pickings, right? Rocky wants to change her life and is gung-ho about the plan. Money follows his name, they manage to convince Alex to shed his feelings of uncertainty and they go for it.


The genius of cinematographer Pedro Luque (Extinction, Antebellum) takes centre-stage at this juncture.

The old man, only called The Blind Man (Stephen Lang), wakes up, gets to hear the creaking floor, knows there is somebody in his house, and collects his wits about him - and the equations start oscillating wildly. The cocky arrogance of the kids starts to slip down notches and transforms to bewilderment, and progressively, to terror.


The traction in a great thriller comes with the permeability of emotion, which in turn is a factor of caring. Whilst, prima facie, it’s three thugs taking advantage of an old blind man, the script cleverly creates a soft emotional space for Rocky and Alex. And everything turns on its head as the twists emerge. There are secrets the old man has, and this is, finally, no Home Alone.

Fede Alvarez immerses the film in shades of darkness - impenetrable sometimes with only the sounds of breathing or shifting. He often dabbles with the haziness of light to make the unseeing eyes of ‘The Blind Man’ seem potent enough to puncture the screen with their green stony hardness.


The irresistible charm of this film, however, comes from its unpredictability and its closeness to its dangers. The script cleverly belies expectations, as audiences are kept unaware of who’ll emerge alive from the ensuing mayhem.

I watched the film, with my heart thumping, and often through splayed fingers. And promised myself to watch it again, pretty much as soon as I got my breath back!


In 2009, director Fede Alvarez, originally from Uruguay, made Panic Attack! and posted it on YouTube. The short was less than five-minutes-long, with a budget of a few hundred dollars. But it got acclaimed filmmaker Sam Raimi to notice Alvarez’s talent. Subsequently, Alvarez was handed the directorial reins for the remake of the classic Evil Dead movie in 2013. The movie had a production budget of around $17 million and went on to make almost $100 million worldwide. The rest is history.

Watch Don’t Breathe here .

(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)

(Written by Sunil Bhandari, a published poet and host of the podcast ‘Uncut Poetry’)