In director Fede Alvarez’s new horror-thriller Don’t Breathe (out Aug. 26), Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto play a trio of friends whose attempt to rob the house of a blind man goes horribly, horribly wrong. (Seriously, you will not believe how badly things go awry.) The film is the second collaboration between Alvarez and Levy, the first being 2013’s Evil Dead, and the second time the director has, let us say, required the actress to go that extra yard.
“I think Jane arrived on set and five minutes later she realized, ‘This might have been a mistake,'” Alvarez tells EW. “A lot of that suffering you see onscreen is real. This movie was very hard to make on the actors. On Evil Dead, it was more the physicality of it all, like being covered in blood every day, and makeup, and all that. On this one, this was a bit more the psychological torment of what’s going on and what she was going to be put through. You have to make sure that the actors are not too relaxed or not too comfortable. You misdirect the actor, you tell them, ‘You’re gonna walk down this hallway, and the guy’s going to come from the left, and you prepare for that.’ But, at the last second, you change it, and make him come from the right. You get great reactions out of them. Then they just scream at you but that doesn’t matter.
“How much these actors get pissed?,” he continues. “That’s a side note. But I think Jane did a fantastic job. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her work. I think she’s brilliant in the film, and she never fakes a single emotion, she’s really going for it, and she gave 100 percent every day on set.”
Alvarez explains that he and his writing partner, Rodo Sayagues, came up with the idea for Don’t Breathe partly as a reaction against their gore-drenched Evil Dead remake. “We wanted to make a film that was for the same audience that enjoyed Evil Dead but we wanted to expand that audience,” he says. “We wanted to make something that was 50 percent horror and 50 percent thriller, right? It’s not easy to create those stories but we knew that there was one thing that’s always scary, always effective, that doesn’t depend on ghosts or haunted houses, which is the idea of having characters that you care about walking into a house, like, breaking into someone else’s house. That makes for a very unsettling setup. The challenge was to come up with a worthy opponent, someone that will have a mystery, and could have a good story behind him, and could be almost like a mythological creature — there’s a lot of the minotaur-labyrinth in the movie. It was all about who was going to be the minotaur, and what was going to be his story, and that’s when the character of the blind man came up.”
That character, a highly capable war veteran, is played by Stephen Lang, who has portrayed similar roles before, most notably in Avatar. “I think the first list we put together of actors, he was on the top,” Alvarez says. “There was no doubt that he was perfect for it, and, thank god, when we approached him, he said ‘yes’ right away. It was one of those things where, because he had played a military guy in the past, it was very interesting to see what he was going to do with this guy, who has visual impairment. It was like, ‘What if that guy from that other movie got visually impaired, and was left to his own devices, and is the last man standing in this forgotten neighborhood?'”
All of which leaves just one final question: How long can Alvarez hold his breath? “Not a lot, not a lot,” he laughs. “I need to do more cardio. [In Don’t Breathe] I’d be dead pretty soon.”
See the trailer for Don’t Breathe below.