Don’t rob an old blind dude in Detroit, especially if the dude is Stephen Lang with an angry Rottweiler backing him up. Seriously don’t though, you don’t wanna know the consequences involving a turkey baster, a pair of scissors and a jam jar full of… I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking grim. Don’t Breathe is a pretty damn effective shocker from director Fede Alvarez, who did that Evil Dead remake that had the nerve to be way better than it should have been. In an especially derelict Detroit neighbourhood, three hapless street kids (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) unwisely decide to burglarize the home of gulf war veterans Lang, who reportedly has a nice wad of cash stashed in his basement. Well.. he’s got more than that down there, let me tell you. Once he gets wind of their presence, his lithe warrior reflexes, keen hunter instincts and heightened sense of hearing make their experience between his walls a living nightmare, not to mention… other things he gets up to. Lang is the perfect actor for this because before he got super jacked for Avatar he was a pretty lanky guy, so you have this sinewy frame with sizeable muscle mass packed on, not the body type you want to be trapped in a narrow hallway with. Plus he’s just a terrific actor and plays this guy like a feral beast with touches of sorrow curdled into madness. Alvarez makes great use of his cameras here, doing long sweeping takes that utilize hallways, door frames and wide rooms, evoking David Fincher’s Panic Room just enough to garnish his own style. The acting aside from Lang is just ok; Levy does the wide eyed, tomboy Final Girl thing well, Minette is just not a naturally gifted actor and it shows, while Zovatto is saddled with horribly written lines from the Hollywood ‘this is what street punks act like’ typewriter bot and is just cartoonish. Still though, it’s a highly suspenseful effort that benefits greatly from Lang’s presence. As for the turkey baster, I’m not sure the film needed such a stark, sickening set piece (Fincher himself would squirm) but I won’t soon forget it, which I suppose is half the point. Tense stuff.
As far as horror remakes go, you can do a lot, lot worse than Fede Alvarez’s 2013 version of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. If this version and Raimi’s are to be viewed as different sides of the Evil Dead aesthetic, this would be the sober version, and Raimi’s the wasted one. The original trilogy of films were most decidedly horror, but they were raucous, silly, playful as all hell and had the kind of cheerfully sloppy, Schlock in the Box vibe of a horror comedy. Alvarez’s version sobers right up and has almost no instances of humour, save for a few quick moments. What it doesn’t lose an iota of, however, is the gut churning bodily harm inflicted on humans and deadites, this is one film that takes its violence seriously and thinks up some really interesting ways to fuck people up using hardware tools, kitchen appliances and that good ol’ rip snortin chainsaw. As long as you’re cool with that fact that the comedy elements have been ditched and the proceedings here, although no less grisly, are pretty stone-faced and grim. The troupe of ill fated folks who end up at the now iconic cabin in the woods are played by Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas. Once the Necronomicon is read from, all manner of nastiness descends on them from the surrounding woods and evil starts to possess them and.. you know the drill. Although some unwelcome CGI is used when Levy’s Mia finds herself alone in the woods and molested by a tree, once we get back to the interior of the cabin the special effects have an intimate, visceral and realistic impact. Scenes involving a SawsAll and an exacto knife are memorable for their ability to make you squirm and hide your eyes, which is when you know your scenes are effective. Atmosphere is also key, and although we don’t get the tactile, grainy VHS vision of the forest and hidden army of smoke machines to create the setting, the cabin/forest here are still eerily realized, especially when they head to the basement where the intense prologue of the film happened, which further sets up the mood. It’s not in the vein of Raimi or even close to as good as his original classics, but they’ve put on a super creepy, spectacularly gory (that chainsaw massacre in the blood rain is an impressive showpiece) show that should please casual fans and franchise die-hards alike. Watch for a VIP cameo after the credits too.