After a home robbery gone horribly wrong, three young wannabe criminals find themselves trapped in a creepy derelict house with their intended target, a blind man (Stephen Lang) who — in an inventive twist — is way more vicious than they anticipated. But if a blind, armed, and dangerous Gulf War veteran isn’t enough of a monster to sustain an entire movie, director Fede Alvarez’s latest horror film, Don’t Breathe, packs in a few bonus horrors. There’s also a demonic dog capable of chewing through walls and vents, as well as the crushing destitution of modern Detroit, which forced the young burglars to choose a life of crime in the first place. Underlying it all are the discrepancies in criminal justice for the rich and the poor, which provide the blind man with his murderous origin story and give Don’t Breathe a contemporary edge that’s all the more unsettling.
Alvarez appears to have consciously toned down the gore from his blood-saturated Evil Dead remake, trusting unnerving visuals and foreshadowing what terrors are about to unfold. When the group first enter the house, the camera pans all the way around to show the hidden implements and traps they’re obliviously missing. But playing on this ambitious scale — trying to make a statement about modern society while meeting the demands of a modern thriller — costs the movie some consistency, and the stakes start to erode after a few too many narrow escapes. The result is thought-provoking but rather lacking in the second-by-second scares genre fans tend to expect. B+