When the director Fede Alvarez’s harrowing new action thriller premiered earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival, it was still untitled — until just a few days later, after its initial screenings, when Screen Gems and Ghost House Pictures announced that the movie would be called “Don’t Breathe.” At the time I wondered if the use of the imperative might be a veiled reference to “Wait Until Dark,” that vintage 1967 chiller starring Audrey Hepburn as a not-so-helpless blind woman defending herself and her apartment against a murderous thug, memorably played by Alan Arkin in dead-eyed shades.
At the risk of disobeying the title’s order and devolving into my own state of critical hyperventilation, I am pleased to report that “Don’t Breathe” is basically “Wait Until Dark” on steroids — a devious and demonstrative piece of home-invasion mischief that also leans heavily, and ingeniously, on blindness as a crucial plot device.
Let’s just say that by the time the lights go out in “Don’t Breathe,” you will almost certainly be rooting for — and squirming alongside — the young intruders who find themselves plunged into total, disorienting darkness.
The revelations at the heart of “Don’t Breathe” are lurid and ludicrous in the extreme, but they’re also almost incidental — a quick, resourceful means of sustaining a lethal game of cat-and-mouse between predator and prey, and between filmmaker and audience.
Which is not to suggest that “Don’t Breathe” is a silent film, by any means.