What was the last thriller you saw with that cutting edge that made you want to look away during the spine-chilling moments where the main character was physically challenged and suffered a visual disability? I recall Wait Until Dark (1967) directed by Terence Young starring Audrey Hepburn as the blind protagonist trying to escape the clutches of three killers. The film was based on a novel of the same name by Frederick North and Hepburn received two best actress nominations, one for an Academy Award and another for a Golden Globe. That she did not win either does not take away from her brilliant performance as the young housewife who had gone blind recently and was home alone when her husband was on tour.

After nearly five decades, we are gifted with another thriller, Don’t Breathe, with the protagonist living alone, though blind. Directed by Fede Alvares, the thrills can be directly sourced to the protagonist being a gray-haired man and the fact that he is the victim of a plan that involves three misdirected youngsters, two boys and a girl, to rob him precisely because he&’s visually impaired. But Stephen Lang, who plays the victim, is, figuratively speaking, not blind the way one would expect; the character he plays and the way he goes about substantiating it can change you perception of the blind. It reaches far beyond being visually challenged and offers a demonstration of the strength these people can draw when necessity demands.

Rocky (Jane Levy), a teenage delinquent living with neglectful parents, promises her younger sister, Diddy (Emma Bercovici), that they will start their own lives together and move away from their dysfunctional family. Looking for the right amount of cash to do so, her boyfriend, Money (Daniele Zovatto), convinces her to break into the home of a blind man (Lang) who supposedly has a safe in the basement. Breaking into the house in the middle of the night with their friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), they discover the blind man is not as helpless as he seems, and soon find they are caught in a game of cat-and-mouse with someone willing and ready to kill them. 

Lang began his acting career playing Happy in Death of a Salesman (1985) and has never looked back.  He says, “When you embrace the character to the extent that you can become the character, you don’t conceive of yourself as villainous or heroic.” He is also doing a very important role in Solar Eclipse — the depth of darkness, where he plays the role of DIG Sunil Raina in a film based on true events that led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

The story is straightforward and simple, though there are subterranean layers that spread out to other social areas such as the impact of dysfunctional families on growing children for whom it is easy to slip into the murky world of no-return into crime, shortcuts that vulnerable youngsters of today are prone to take without realising the consequences of their actions and their failure to gauge the strength of their would-be victims. The film also tries to point out the difference between good intention — Rocky&’s intention to rescue herself and her sister from the family — and bad actions that involve stealing, which becomes almost a way of life for her and her friends. This is a global area that applies to people everywhere reeling under the pressure of materialism, consumerism and, well, globalisation without reprieve.

One of the most critical moments in Don’t Breathe is when Lang encounters the trio who have come to rob his house. Giving in to the energy of the moment, the director and the actors agreed to give each a free hand and not define themselves with restrictions. The result was a perfect shot at the cost of many bruises. Daniel Zovatto said, “That was really a fun scene. Fede, the director, was open to letting us find the energy of that moment because it is the first time the blind man confronts the trio. It was very physical. I wanted it to be real, I did not want to fake it, so the freedom that Stephen and me gave every other character was really cool. As an actor, I trusted him and he trusted me and allowed all of us to really go there. I think it was like a two-day thing, it was a long scene to shoot, and there were a lot of angles and stuff like that. I don’t know, by the end I had bruises on my back, I don’t know, scars on my neck, and I didn’t want to pause anything because I wanted to feel the pain.”

Don’t Breathe is produced by Ghost House Pictures and Good Universe. The film released in US theatres last month and is scheduled for release in India this month.