Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto are a trio of young thieves whose lives are going pretty much nowhere. In fact, Levy and jerky boyfriend Zovatto have dreams of leaving town after one more score. They decide to break into the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who came into some money after the death of his daughter via a car accident. Unfortunately, Lang is no ordinary old blind man. In addition to being a war veteran, his other four senses are alert, he’s resourceful, strong, and no mere would-be victim. These kids have f’d with the wrong Marine. Yes, I am proud of that one, thank you.
This 2016 horror twist on “Wait Until Dark” from director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues comes with much positive reaction from critics, especially genre critics. Although a tad overrated, I’m happy to say that there’s some merit to the hype here. Aside from one character who should’ve been dead several times over, I really didn’t have any big issues with this one. That one flaw was indeed very silly, otherwise it’s effective in the moment, and that’s all it’s likely trying to be.
Early on I was worried that having a trio of thieves as protagonists would result in me having no one to root for, as the film kind of inverts the “Wait Until Dark” or “Panic Room” formula. I certainly didn’t care that much initially for Jane Levy’s ‘poor white trash doing whatever she can to get out of the slums’ rationale (though Levy’s pretty good in the role), let alone her two male cohorts. That stuff reminded me of the terrible “People Under the Stairs” a bit. Interesting characters are for me an absolute must in any horror film, so a film that doesn’t give me that has its work cut out for it. However, in addition to bumping off the least likeable thief first, you’ve got Stephen Lang playing the supposed ‘victim’ of the home invasion so you kinda know there’s more than meets the eye here, if you’ll pardon the pun. So it actually doesn’t end up being an issue that the protagonists aren’t very admirable. And boy is there ever more to this blind guy than on the surface of it. 20 minutes in and one look at this guy’s personal set of tools has you unnerved (Don’t worry, it’s not really a ‘torture porn’ film). These idiot thieves don’t know how much trouble they’re about to be in, because Stephen Lang plays very, very far from a victim or a nice guy here. This is a guy with a grudge and a completely twisted worldview (once again, pardon the pun), and in the dark he’s on much better footing against these intruders. Lang’s perfectly cast, and despite having little dialogue for much of the film, he’s put to good use.
There’s an interesting look to the film once the lights go out, kind of like film negative meets night vision. It’s overall a gorgeously lit film as lensed by Pedro Luque, and you all know I enjoy a good-looking horror film. If you enjoy the work of cinematographer Daniel Pearl, this is a very Daniel Pearl-looking film. This is ‘jump’ scare horror crossed with home invasion thriller, but so far as the former goes it’s a rare effective one. I normally find ‘jump’ scares lame and lazy and only momentarily (and barely) effective, but this is one of the better examples of the device.
This is really simple genre filmmaking with enough filmmaking talent on show to make me want to see what the next film from Alvarez and/or Sayagues is. It’s not great, but it is effective and that’s the main aim one supposes. Amazing, given the protagonists are unlikeable twits, that it works but it does.