Since it played South by Southwest in March, buzz has been building for Fede Alvarez’s thriller “Don’t Breathe,” a tightly told tale of three amateur thieves who break into the wrong house.
In an interview while Alvarez was in Austin for some special screenings in advance of the film’s release on Friday, the director discussed three films that influenced “Don’t Breathe” and two that he made sure did not:
“Psycho” (1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock): Generally considered one of the greatest thrillers ever made, Hitchcock’s film never sacrifices plausibility for shock — the shocks are baked in.
“The main thing with ‘Don’t Breathe’ was to try to do something scary in the realm of the real, not the supernatural. ‘Psycho’ is a good example of structure and style,” Alvarez said. “You start with characters with shady morals that are doing bad things in the beginning, which goes great with this kind of story. Hitchcock did that many, many times. It makes it hard to anticipate the end of the movie with those sorts of characters because that makes it very hard to know who deserves to live and who deserves to die. In ‘Don’t Breathe,’ we didn’t want classic hero, we wanted something else.”
“Bande à part” (“A Band Apart”) (1964, directed by Jean-Luc Godard): As sweet and audience-friendly as the world-historical French filmmaker gets.
“The characters’ dynamics for ‘Don’t Breathe’ come to a certain extent from the French film ‘A Band Apart,’ the triangle of robbers, two guys and a girl, both of them love her. There was actually a dance scene for ‘Don’t Breathe’ at a diner, just like in ‘A Band Apart,’ that we ended up taking out. It was pretty cute.”
“Panic Room” (2002, directed David Fincher): A locked-room heist movie starring Jodie Foster as a mom dealing with home invaders, as she and her daughter (a young Kristen Stewart who looks an awful lot like a young Jodie Foster) are stuck in you-know-where.
“‘Panic Room’ was definitely an influence. I saw that when I was in film school and it really impacted me in terms of all the things you could do with a camera to tell the story, how to place the audience in the house. It showed me how you could give the audience little details and things that the characters in the movie might not know. There’s a shot in the beginning of ‘Don’t Breathe’ where (the robbers enter the house), and I show the hammer and I show you the rock and I show you a lot of elements that will come back and the audience is trying to figure out how those things will return and how they will impact the story. I never thought ‘Panic Room’ was a great movie, but I thought it was visually unique when it came out, and there are things in there that are magnificent.”
“Wait Until Dark” (1967, directed by Terence Young): A movie about a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) dealing with home invaders; great score, great climax.
” ‘Wait Until Dark’ was not really an influence. I saw it once I was done with the script and told my mom what the movie was about and my mother’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just like that Audrey Hepburn movie’ (soft, ‘Thanks, Mom’ laugh follows). So I had to watch it. But the script was done first.”
“Evil Dead” (2013 directed by Fede Alvarez): Alavarez’s first feature was the 2013 remake of (that is also maybe a sequel to) “Evil Dead.”
“In some ways, (‘Don’t Breathe’) is a reaction to making ‘Evil Dead.’ That movie opened a lot of doors and I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, I got to control a lot of it, but it still needed to be an ‘Evil Dead’ movie. It needed to be always that. That movie had a lot of blood, so for this movie I wanted a not-in-your-face shock; I wanted this to be all about suspense. That’s where ‘Psycho’ comes in again. We didn’t used to talk about ‘scares’ in a horror movie; we used to talk about how suspenseful the movie is. When we started to think about making a more classical horror movie, that’s what we talked about, the feeling of hope versus fear in every shot.”