The place is Detroit, and the people are three friends - Rocky (Jane Levy), her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and their pal Alex (Dylan Minnette) - who have found a way to make money in this depressed city. That method is to steal, as they break into wealthier homes than theirs have ever been and help themselves to valuables, with Alex advising what it is best to take and how to go about the process since he has read up on the legalities and potential consequences of their actions. But Money has heard about one man who lives in an almost deserted region, who was reported in the press to have received a huge payout in compensation for the death of his daughter; he sounds like easy pickings, particularly because he is blind.
It should be like taking candy from a baby as the old phrase goes, not that babies eat candy, which is presumably why they're so easy to take it from, but anyway, the trio's perfect crime is one taking place in the movies, where such escapades are not normally so forgiving. You can get away with quite a bit in the real world, but cinema tells you the reckoning will be upon you eventually, and so it is here, much as you would expect from what billed itself as a horror film. It was delivered by much the same team as the Evil Dead remake had on board, and while that dipped out of the public consciousness once Ash vs. The Evil Dead hit television screens, this proved more durable.
That was down to the number of audiences who saw it, it was among the biggest chiller successes of its year, not bad for a film that cost so little to make and generated such healthy profits, not that its subject matter was healthy at all. Indeed, there were complaints that it was so grim that Don't Breathe left the viewer wondering who they should be sympathising with, not so much moral ambiguity as a complete absence of a moral compass for every one of the four-strong cast of main characters. For a start, the ostensible heroes thought it was perfectly reasonable to plunder the home of a seriously disabled Gulf War veteran, but then you had to take into account what he was up to himself: clue, it was nothing excusable.
Director Fede Alvarez fashioned a stripped down, single-minded set of thrills for those characters to play out, but still the feeling that you were not really backing any of them to succeed hung in the air of the musty house and its sinister basement. You should, if you were going about as lenient as you would be able to, sympathise with Alex for he was only along for the raid because he is secretly (or not so secretly) in love with Rocky, and doesn't wish her to fall to any harm, but the fact remained he was apparently a serial burglar as much as she or the more spiky and aggressive Money were. As Rocky was patently set up as what would be the final girl, much as Levy had essayed in the Evil Dead remake, the mixed feelings considering her oft-stated avarice were hard to shake, even with the circumstances established near the beginning.
This was one of a number of horrors set in Detroit around the time of its decay thanks to the American motor industry abandoning it, which was bad news for the populace, but good news for filmmakers seeking interesting-looking locations for their movies. Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues went a step further and made Rocky's poverty her prime motivation for the no good activities she got up to: we see she would like to move to California with her younger sister for a taste of the good life, but simply does not have the funding. Therefore when the opportunity arises for them both to escape what is obviously a pretty harsh home life, Rocky jumps at the chance, the film reasoning that her dire straits led her to crime, which excuses her. Certainly she does not deserve the fate Stephen Lang's blind man has planned for her once he realises he is not alone, but who would? They stack the deck here against the victim, or victims plural, resulting in suspenseful yet hard to welcome developments and the way left open for what felt like an unnecessary sequel. Music by Roque Baños.