DON’T BREATHE. A nerve-wracking thriller

It’s hard to write more without spoiling the pleasure of watching Don’t Breathe.

Krzysztof Walecki

28 December 2023

Detroit has always been associated with RoboCop for me, but after the declaration of bankruptcy by the American city in 2013, the ruined and abandoned suburbs became an ideal landscape for a modern horror. It Follows; Only Lovers left Alive, and Lost River significantly benefited from lifeless images, depicting a fantastic reality exposed by economic collapse and numerous relocations, underscored by the desperation of those who remained.

In the film by Fede Alvarez, Don’t Breathe, the main characters are three young people who “earn a living” by breaking into the homes of people better off than them. The only girl in the group, Rocky, dreams of escaping from there, just like most of her friends did. However, she needs more money, especially since she also has to take care of her younger sister. An opportunity arises with information about a blind Iraq War veteran who has $300,000 stored in his home. Such a heist could help start a new life and escape from Detroit forever. But as is often the case with the last jobs, everything quickly becomes complicated.

Jane Levy;Dylan Minnette;Daniel Zovatto

It’s hard to write more without spoiling the pleasure of watching Don’t Breathe, a thriller that, on the one hand, strongly resembles other representatives of the genre (Panic Room, The People Under the Stairs), and on the other hand, cleverly reverses roles. Typically, the positive characters are the homeowners who defend against thieves’ attacks; here, however, the burglars engage in a fight against evil in the form of a murderous madman, whose disability makes him more of a monster than a victim. The superhuman (or inhuman) way he perfectly navigates the situation, often surprising his opponents, and his ominous intentions suggest a character straight out of horror, although the director is much more restrained in depicting it than in his previous film, the very bloody remake of Evil Dead.

Alvarez prefers to build tension based on the attempts of the unlucky protagonists to escape from the home of the villain rather than shock the audience with violent and blood-soaked scenes.

The shock ultimately comes when the script explains why the robbed veteran doesn’t want to call the police. The twist is that, at some point, it becomes crucial for the burglars to call for help.


The creators exceptionally well justify the choices and motivations of their characters, making it fuel for their plot. The ambivalent attitude toward the thieves is not softened by Rocky’s dreams of a better tomorrow or the hidden love that Alex, one of her partners in crime, has for her (the third burglar is actually her boyfriend with a meaningful nickname – Money), but by the degree of degeneration they have to face. The blind man also has strong feelings, but filtered through his sick mind, they become a nightmare come true for those confined with him. Stephen Lang is excellent in this role, convincingly combining the monstrosity and perversion of his character with a human factor, creating a much more interesting black character than the standard indestructible boogeyman. Moreover, one could consider him a victim of his country’s policies, left to his own devices, as best seen in the image of his street, depopulated and silent, where there is no one who could react to the sounds of gunshots or the sight of a man dragging an unconscious girl by her hair. There is no God, says the blind man in one of the scenes. He not only justifies his sick fantasy with this, emphasizing complete freedom and liberty but also explains the presented world, devoid not so much of people as good people.

This pessimism resonates in the ironic finale, although Don’t Breathe never forgets for a moment that it is primarily a one-and-a-half-hour, nerve-wracking thriller. It has a truly horror atmosphere, and some staging ideas are impressive – especially the shot of the dog chasing Rocky in the ventilation duct. Jane Levy, who also appeared in Alvarez’s aforementioned Evil Dead, has a great presence and skill, making the film more than just a one-sided duel. Her partners, Dylan Minnette (Alex) and Daniel Zovatto (Money), perform very decently and believably, although we know from the beginning who is the most important character in the trio. However, the biggest star remains Lang, speaking only a few sentences throughout the film, seemingly defenseless and tragic, ultimately full of unrestrained strength and determination. If someone preferred to cheer for him rather than the youthful criminals, it doesn’t surprise me at all.