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‘Don’t Breathe” is another in a line of horror movies that confirm my belief that when it comes to scary tales, it’s like burgers: Low-budget is best. When you add fancy trimmings to make them swanky, bam! — the authenticity goes out the window.

“Don’t Breathe” is made with just the right bargain-basement spirit, and its lack of big dollar signs is as alluring as a cheap vintage clothing shop a week before pay day. You almost want to get to know the crew and hang out with director Fede Alvarez (“Evil Dead”) because the movie feels that intimate — cozy even, if such a thing could be possible for a horror movie.

Having said that, “Don’t Breathe” is still intensely nasty, and its characters invite no sympathy whatsoever.

Don't Breathe
Rating
Run Time 88 mins
Opens DEC. 16

The teen protagonist, Rocky (Jane Levy), wants just one thing — to get her kid sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici), away from the clutches of their abusive mother and run away to California. But to make that happen, she needs to find a sizable amount of cash. Her boyfriend, aptly named Money (Daniel Zovatto), offers a plan: Break into the house of the blind Iraq War veteran— who lives in the neighborhood and, rumor has it, is stashing hoards of cash — and rob him, er, blind.

Why Rocky would choose to be with the crude, lewd Money is a mystery, but on the other hand they seem to be made for each other. He at least specializes in break-ins, even if he likes to pee all over his victims’ belongings. Their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette) is timid but he’s the smartest of the three and can disable a house alarm, plus he has a crush on Rocky. He reluctantly agrees to help with the robbery, if only to prove that he can be a tough guy, just like Money.

All three figure the break-in will be a piece of cake, but the blind man (Stephen Lang) turns out to be not only a brutal psychopath, but also one adept at using his other senses. He can’t see anything, but his house is full of traps and his anger is venomous.

“Just because he’s blind don’t mean he’s a saint,” remarks Money just before they go in, only to discover that’s the most astute thing Money has probably ever said.

“Don’t Breathe” recalls Fernando Meirelles’ 2008 film “Blindness,” in which a city’s residents are suddenly struck by an epidemic of blindness and are quarantined in a psychiatric institution. There, violence and lawlessness break out among the blind, overturning the belief that disabled people are helpless and therefore incapable of evil.

In “Don’t Breathe,” the three teenagers are awful, but Lang’s unnamed character is far worse. His performance stalking his victims one by one in his huge, crumbling and very dark old house, is stellar. The robbery quickly turns into a survival game of cat and mouse, with the blind man at a definite advantage.

Locale is key here. It all takes place in bankrupt Detroit where there’s no lack of abandoned houses and the air is thick with equal parts resignation and desperation. You can’t blame Rocky for wanting to escape, but when faced with gore and death in the blind man’s house, her resolve is a bit unnerving. Not only is she determined to get out of this alive, but she still intends to take the man’s money, too. Her refusal to escape empty handed is the driving force behind “Don’t Breathe.” There are instances when she just could have cut and run, but she doesn’t.

Rocky’s toughness and complete lack of morals could be a comment on life in the Factory Belt, or perhaps explain why in the U.S. elections the Midwest voted for a man who promised jobs and smoke stacks.

Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, “Don’t Breathe” keeps the terror going until the very end, but it takes a lot of liberties with credibility, even for the genre. Perhaps Alvarez tried a bit too hard, but you can see that he was determined to give viewers a run for their money. “Don’t Breathe” is a horror story with a financial edge.

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