Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe Is an Impressively Uncomfortable Game of Cat and Mouse

Fede Alvarez delivered a gruesome, bloody spectacle with 2013’s Evil Dead. Afterward, he was ready to show he could do horror in a very different way.

Fede Alvarez delivered a gruesome, bloody spectacle with 2013’s Evil Dead. Afterward, he was ready to show he could do horror in a very different way.

At its peak moments, Don’t Breathe is every bit as uncomfortable and unpleasant as Evil Dead was. But the build to that is a far less blood-soaked affair. In fact, Don’t Breathe would be a pointed attempt to make a bloodless terror experience that relied more on dramatic tension than supernatural spice.

Released on this day in 2016, Don’t Breathe tells the story of Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), a struggling young woman who is convinced to take part in the burglary of the home of a blind man (Avatar’s Stephen Lang) so she can create a better life for herself and her sister. Together with her boyfriend and his friend, they enter the blind man’s home hoping for an easy score. The home invaders get more than they reckoned for when they discover the occupant is far from helpless.

The setup makes it seem like a modern twist on movies such as David Fincher’s Panic Room and the Audrey Hepburn thriller Wait Until Dark. It shares much with those home invasion fightbacks, and the Mike Flanagan movie Hush holds similar ideas, but the degrading sympathy for the Blind Man as Don’t Breathe creeps toward its delightfully disgusting finale shifts things back toward a slasher-style experience. Quietly, Don’t Breathe drifts into different genres.

Breath of the Mild

Credit: Screen Gems

A sequel was made in 2021 by Alavrez’s longtime writing partner Rodo Sayagues that shifted the perspective onto The Blind Man years after the first film where he must rescue an orphaned girl he’s been raising. The change in focus rankled many fans of the original, and it was seen by some as dull in comparison to its predecessor.

Alvarez went on to direct The Girl in the Spider’s Web with Claire Foy taking on the role of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. It didn’t have the impact of other entries in the series created by the late Stieg Larsson nor did it reach the heights of Don’t Breathe. Alvarez is tackling his biggest franchise yet next, however, as he’s behind the camera for the first Alien film to be made since Disney bought 20th Century Fox with Alien: Romulus.

And if Fede Alvarez can bring the bloody mean streak of Evil Dead and the cat-and-mouse tension of Don’t Breathe to a new Alien film, then it could be the best entry we’ve seen in decades.