Blind assassin

Don't Breathe has so much craft it retroactively makes nearly every other recent studio horror movie look even lazier." This tweet by Peter S Hall piqued my interest in this Fede Alvarez-directed thriller that came out of left field.

Set in modern day Detroit, the movie is about three youngsters (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto) who decide to flee the erstwhile auto hub after robbing an ex-army man (Stephen Lang) at his house. Here's the rub: Lang's character is a blind man.

The internal conceit of Don't Breathe is so legitimately brilliant that Alvarez deserves some sort of a medal. He created an antagonist for whom the audience would be both cheering and hating. Lang's disposition of a blind person is so utterly believable. If anyone ever asks for an example of the heightened faculties if one loses a faculty, Lang's character would be the prime exhibit. I would only remember Lang from Avatar as a mercenary searching high and low for unobtanium and here he is in a totally new avatar (no pun intended). His bearded visage topped up by a beefy frame and a gruffy larynx makes one wonder if this is the best inspired casting of the year.

The surreal derangement of the movie lies in the house where most of the action happens. The robbers are trapped in some Marienbad owned by a blind assassin who is brilliant at shooting and is mad amazing at sniffing out intruders. Levy and Minnette's characters fight the most battles until the totally unexpected climax unfolds.

Don't Breathe opens with a beautiful crane shot of Lang dragging Levy's bloodied body on Detroit streets and that's when we realise that the Uruguayan film maker is making the city one of his characters. The post-recession Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, is an elephant graveyard (best experienced in the 2012 documentrary Detropia) and it is Alvarez's stroke of genius to give the movie such a bleak blackground. The movie is immacutely true to its time and place and even a joke is cracked by the cocky Zovatto that Lang is the "last man standing" on a desolate Detroit street.

After Mad Max: Fury Road, this is the first American movie that made me gape at the screen unblinkingly. Roque Baños tingly apparent noise and Pedro Luque's unobtrusive cinematography drench each scene with enough feeling and beauty. Alvarez seems like that rare film maker who is in such control of his craft that one can both admire and enjoy the happenings on the screen. There is a gorgeously shot scene in the basement where a level playing field is set with all lights shut off. The cat and mouse game never looked more exciting.

In one of the movie's decidedly feminist moment - spoiler alert - Levy forces an injection full of sperm down Lang's throat. Regarding the tweet with which I opened this column, I think among the recent movies only Babadook, It Follows and Goodnight Mommy escape that scrutiny.

Speaking of exciting new directors, I was able to get hold of the DVD of Uriyadi, set in a small town in Tamil Nadu in the late 1990s. This movie about four engineering students getting caught in the throes of caste politics is as gritty as Tamil cinema can get. Director Vijay Kumar imbues the scenes with a raw imagery that might make Bala blush.

The interval fight has the perfect kind of propulsiveness, where everything looks like a pastiche inspired by Jackson Pollock and Hieronymus Bosch paintings. No one hits the perfect blow and everyone slips up while delivering those blows. At a time when fight sequences in Indian cinema are all about style and no substance, Uriyadi nearly reinvents the wheel.

It is a minor travesty that while Uriyadi sank without a trace at the box office, the producers of Janatha Garage are minting money. Here's a clunky piece of cinema that deserves to be asphyxiated at the writing stage. The movie is ostensibly about a nature lover (Jr NTR) who crosses paths with the do-gooder Mohanlal and they fight against injustice in the society. Director Koratala Siva, who is being hailed as the new Rajamouli, needs to soon wish his writing chops godspeed.

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