Would-be thief Jane Levy plays a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with homeowner Stephen Lang in 'Don't Breathe.' (Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)
In Don’t Breathe, Rocky (Jane Levy) is determined to escape her abusive mother and save her and her younger sister from a dead-end existence and will do whatever it takes to get away. She and friends Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) have pulled off a series of elaborately planned burglaries in order to come up with enough cash to escape their dire Detroit hometown.
Their petty crimes have netted meager rewards, however, so when the trio learns that a blind man (Stephen Lang) living in an abandoned neighborhood has a small fortune stashed in his house, they agree to go for their biggest and final heist. But their plan goes dangerously wrong when their intended victim turns out to be more frightening than they ever anticipated. As he stalks them relentlessly through his heavily fortified house, they are horrified to discover that he has more than just money hidden away.
In 2013, writer and director Fede Alvarez made full length feature debut with the reboot of Sam Raimi’s classic, Evil Dead. In his new film, he explores different but equally terrifying territory. Alvarez once again joins forces with Raimi for a home invasion story that blurs the line between horror and thriller. “It has elements of both,” says the director. “I wouldn’t call it a hundred percent horror or thriller. But it has a bunch of very scary moments for sure.”
Making Evil Dead with Raimi was “an unforgettable experience,” says Alvarez. “so we decided to do it again. Sam has been a great mentor. He is not just a great director and producer. He is really a fanboy himself with a firm grasp of his audience.”
None of the characters is completely admirable and that is by design says Alvarez. “I don’t like it when filmmakers force me to pick a side. A lot of the stories I see are very manipulative. I don’t need to be spoon-fed who is good or bad. Let me choose who I like. We show you an array of characters and let you decide. No one is a saint here. Everyone has shady motives. You have to pick the one that you connect with.”
In Don’t Breathe, the criminals aren’t evil masterminds and the victim isn’t exactly all pure of heart. The three petty criminals think they found an easy mark, but the tables are quickly turned. “They are missing some crucial information,” Alvarez explains. “This man is unusually resourceful and completely ruthless, to the point where he seems almost superhuman. He’s not going to let them get the money without a fight to the finish.”
Don’t Breathe reunites Alvarez with actress Jane Levy, whose turn as the demonically possessed Mia in Evil Dead has inspired graphic tattoos of the character’s blood-drenched image around the world. “This is a completely different character on some levels, but Rocky definitely shares some similarities with Mia,” says Alvarez. “She’s a fighter, that’s for sure. She has a purpose for going after that money and nothing will stop her. But the Blind Man is pulling from the opposite direction with the same fierce resolve.”
Determined to escape her abusive mother and save her younger sister from the dead-end existence that seems inevitable for them both, Rocky will do whatever it takes to get away.
Levy was the director’s first choice for the role from the beginning, but it appeared initially that she would be unavailable for the shoot. “We went through a lengthy process of trying to find the right girl,” Alvarez says. “No one lived up to our expectations. And then suddenly Jane became available and everything fell into place.”
After Evil Dead, Levy says she had decided she was through with horror thrillers. “But here I am, and it is because of Fede. He is the perfect director to bring the story to life and make it so much more than a genre film. It has an epic, mythological feeling for me. It’s been elevated in a way that only Fede could. This movie reminds me of a graphic novel in many ways. The palette is really beautiful — gray with pops of color.”
In order to get away from her mother, Rocky has started committing small-time burglaries with her friends Alex and Money. “They do it partially for the thrill, but mostly because they don’t have money,” says Levy. “They start out stealing whatever little things they find, but then they hear that the Blind Man is sitting on a whole bunch of cash. If they can get their hands on that money, they can get out of Detroit.”
Alvarez, she says, has created four characters that subvert the idea of good guys versus bad guys, upending easy expectations. “You’re rooting for Rocky, even though she’s doing something dishonorable,” Levy says. “It was a challenge to make her likable, but Fede has created archetypal characters who are complex mirrors of humanity. In this situation, Alex is the brains, Money is the drive and Rocky is the heart, so you can root for her.”
Although the extreme physical challenges Levy faced on Evil Dead — including being buried alive — were not repeated in this film, Alvarez still put her through the wringer on a daily basis. “Jane was a great sport who never said no to anything,” he says. “In fact, she is always asking for more.”
The actress loves the physical challenges. “To me, movement in movies is essential to telling the story. If I can respond with just my eyes or an expression or body language, it says so much more than words.”
There was one challenge she says she could have done without, however. Rocky has to face a huge Rottweiler, the Blind Man’s menacing attack dog. Trained to attack Rocky’s cash-stuffed bag, the dog was more intimidating than she anticipated. “It really seemed to lose it. The owner, a huge Hungarian man, was holding the dog back, but I just kept thinking, ‘is it going to eat me right now?’”
Blu-ray, DVD and Digital bonus materials include:
• Deleted scenes with Director’s commentary
• Commentary with Director Fede Alvarez, Co-Writer Rodo Sayagues and Actor Stephen Lang
• Five featurettes:
“Creating the Creepy House”
“Meet the Cast”
“Man in the Dark”
“The Sounds of Horror”