Do not mess with Stephen Lang

In the closing credits, veteran actor Stephen Lang’s cut, grizzled character in director Fede Alvarez’s gripping, Detroit-based horror film “Don’t Breathe” is identified only as The Blind Man.

The message to take away from this suspenseful home-invasion movie now playing along the Lake Michigan shore: Blind or not, do not mess with Stephen Lang.

A hat trick of Motown delinquents — wonderfully played by Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto — learn it the hard way.

They’re wrong, as is one of them who corrects her younger sister, “There’s no surf in Michigan.” (Try to sell that misinformation to all those surfers and sailboarders reveling off the Muskegon beach at Pere Marquette Park.)

Anyway, talk about underestimating your prey: Infused with the delusional sense of entitlement — wanting everything without doing anything — characteristic of too many of their peers, the millennial thugs exit of “Don’t Breathe” beyond the worse for wear; at least, those of them who come out at all. And even the survivor(s?) emerge carrying lifelong psychological baggage. Attacking a defenseless guy victim turns out to be neither can weigh on a body, both figuratively and literally.

Set in The D but shot mostly in Hungary, “Don’t Breathe” takes its title from compensation born of necessity: People who cannot see adjust, honing their sense of hearing.

So when the trio of young thugs break into The Blind Man’s dilapidated home, intent on stealing a bundle of money he acquired after suffering a loss that no parent should have to endure, you can almost envision cartoon hunter Elmer Fudd tip-toeing while whispering, an index finger touched to his mouth, “Be vewry, vewry quiet.”

That’s lost on these Three Stooges, much to their peril. Oh, sure, the most obnoxious of them can drug a slobbering guard doberman who appears to be descended from Cujo, but letting sleeping dogs lie does not last.

The pooch is the least of their predatory problems. The Blind Man is packing, aiming with his ears. A military veteran who lost his sight in combat, he knows a thing or two about survival. If he gets his hands on you, just bend over and kick your ass goodbye.

A quick hitter clocking in at 88 minutes, “Don’t Breathe” reveals Alvarez and his co-screenwriter, Rodo Sayaguez, to be economic storytellers: They wisely adhere to the rule of show, don’t tell. Several of their surprises leap out of the shadows, including The Blind Man’s agenda; Revenge is best served hog-tied.

Alvarez and cinematographer Roque Banos make good use of Detroit’s seamier side, while serving a taut thriller that isn’t over when you think it must be.

One reviewer has called their movie “the best American horror film in 20 years.”

That critic just might be onto something.

Reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in the also Detroit-based “Gran Torino,” Stephen Lang surely is.

Categories: Theatre

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