Exclusive: Fede Alvarez Talks Don’t Breathe

When a group of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist, it turns out they couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t Breathe reunites the Evil Dead team of director Fede Alvarez, producer Sam Raimi, and star Jane Levy for something completely different and totally refreshing.

We caught up with Alvarez shortly after the first press screening of the film, and here is what he had to say.

Dread Central: We were among the lucky few to come and visit you on set in Budapest while you were making Don’t Breathe – yet, the film is believably set in Detroit. Can you talk a little about that, and also how you managed to make the inside of the house so scary without it being overly obvious?

Fede Alvarez: Sure.  Part of the process that we did is… we went to Detroit first and we tried to find the perfect house for the story, which needed to be a house that was run-down, on a very very bad street where all the other houses were abandoned and outdated. So that was kind of challenging, but we did find a good one. Once we knew we were going to shoot it there, we basically — as you’ve seen — made a reproduction of that house on the sound stage in Europe, and it was kind of a challenge…. it’s always some practical challenge to connect those two and how you make that connection seamless. I think that it works pretty well, but what’s kind of strange is your question about how we make it scary. The answer is that we weren’t really trying to make it scary – we just were trying to make it real. But because the house is kind of empty, and because the blind guy really lives there, it feels a little “off.” As a lot of blind people that live by themselves do, they don’t have a lot of clutter or a lot of stuff laying around like chairs and tables, so it’s like they’re kind of keeping a clear space. Also the way that the furniture is laid out, it’s kind of strange because it isn’t supposed to please the eye. You know, to a blind person living by himself, it doesn’t matter; all it has to be is functional. You will have a couch that is looking towards the TV and the fireplace will be looking away from it and it will be like that – but in the movie you see that the main couch is against the fireplace and looking towards the mirrors; it’s kind of, not strange, but in a functional kind of way. That’s the best way to have it so that kind of gives you that strange feeling, and because of the story we’re telling, it makes it creepy and scary. If it wasn’t that story, it wouldn’t be scary. 

The Blind Man has lines on the walls… I think you can see in the movie that there’s, like, scratches from his fingernails because every time he walks down the hallway, he probably has put his finger against the wall to kind of walk in a straight line, and that creates strange scratch lines on the wall and the wallpaper is faded. He lives by himself and he does not have to please anyone and so he doesn’t really care about those things; he cares about functionality so that, I think, works in our favor, but we’re not trying to make this space look scary.

DC: The movie takes a turn, which makes it feel almost like a different story about three quarters of the way through… how come you decided to deviate from the original line of suspense?

FA: Yeah, it definitely was [straight suspense] in the beginning. You might get a sense that you could have to keep sustaining that for longer, but the reality is that you cannot. I mean, if you get to do an hour and a half movie, you better come up with stuff all the time and keep it fresh and changing, and I believe we did. Whatever you show them in the trailer should just be the tip of the iceberg of what the film is, right? If you go into the film thinking you know what it is and it is exactly what you expect it to be, then the filmmakers are not doing their job, right? It should be a lot more and you should never know how deep the rabbit hole goes until you dive in, and that’s when you need constant invention and you need to bring ideas to the table, to constantly twist and turn; otherwise, it will become pretty flat very fast. It was justifying why the guy, why the blind guy, executes one of the thieves in the beginning.

DC: Stephen Lang is amazing in this movie! Was the role written with him in mind?

FA: No. It wasn’t until the movie was in pre-production that we brought him on board. He was one of those actors that I always loved, and there’s not many people in Hollywood that can pull this off. Stephen is 65 and these guys can look frail when you look at them but then they turn it on and they become this ruthless predator during the action. Stephen is well trained and knows what he’s doing… you’re facing the force of nature. Not many actors can pull that off, and we knew right away when we thought about him that he could do it; he was was going to be able to do that. You see him playing the military guy in other movies in the past, right, and that I think helps us as well, at least for me it helps the experience of watching the film because it’s almost like a continuation of characters he has played in the past. But now he’s at a different time of his life and he probably got injured in one of those wars and he has been left on his own in this forgotten neighborhood, and so I think it really helps when you have a character that you can look back and you could imagine is the future version of one of the characters he played in the past.

DC: But maybe that dog of his is even more intimidating!

FA: Yes, but there are three dogs that play one. It’s one of those things that it’s all about the magic of filmmaking and the editing because obviously not all of them are like that. Two of them were very nice. One of them was a mean beast; the other two was actually really nice, and every time you call, they would come with their tongue out and wagging their tail. But it was incredible how the things you can do with editing and composing and a lot of things that we did to make the dog fierce. Again it’s just like the main character… It’s all based on the fact that everything he’s doing makes sense, and he’s never going to let go, like his owner. He’s the dog that most blind people have, the dog with them that helps them, his only friend and companion, and he’s basically an extension of the will of the blind man. That’s why I think he makes for a great villain, because of the dog and all the things they can accomplish together. I think it’s Cujo.

DC: Some of those attack and chase scenes with the dog are pretty brutal. Like you said, it’s Cujo and, I think, a bit of the dog from Dario Argento’s Tenebrae. Was anyone hurt in the shooting of those scenes?

FA: Yeah, people actually got hurt — it was a fight and struggling with the stunt double actually that kind of [went bad]. The woman [double] didn’t want to be in any of the scenes after that, and we had to change that one, not because the dogs really hurt her, but she realized how powerful the dogs can be and how frightened she was, and then she was just terrified of the dog every time she showed up. She was like, ‘I’m sorry, but I cannot do that.’ She was terrified so we ended up having to change the stunt woman some point, and then there was the owner of the dog in the end doing the stunt. It was definitely a challenge because those dogs are powerful — they can really crush your skull with the strength of their jaws, they have that much power, so it’s really frightening.  And that’s why… we haven’t shown any of that in the trailer so far.

Check out our Don’t Breathe set visit reports here and here.

Don’t Breathe (review) will hit theaters on August 26th via Sony Pictures Entertainment. The cast includes Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, and Stephen Lang.

Alvarez directed and wrote the screenplay with Rodo Sayagues. Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert produce for Ghost House Pictures. J.R. Young, Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake and Erin Westerman executive produce.

Synopsis:
A trio of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re wrong.

Dont Breathe

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