Fede Alvarez on ‘Don’t Breathe,’ the Horror Film That Critics Are Calling the Scariest of the Year

In his new horror thriller Don’t Breathe, filmmaker Fede Álvarez tells an original story about a trio of teens who break into the home of a wealthy blind man to steal money only to find the war vet isn’t going to let them get away without a fight. Álvarez, who is originally from Uruguay, hit the mainstream consciousness in 2013 with his remake of the 1981 Evil Dead. During our interview, Álvarez talked about the difference between the antagonist in Don’t Breathe and the one in his last film, and whether or not he feels there is still room in the horror and thriller genres for creativity with so many remakes in demand.

On the difference between making a fantasy horror film and one set in the real world

Each of the worlds has its advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, the real world like the one in Don’t Breathe, it’s exciting because you don’t have to do too much to make it scary. In the ghost world, there is always a part of your brain that fights the idea that we’re in a fantasy. Most of us don’t believe that actually may happen. When you see something like Don’t Breathe, it gets to your fears in different levels. That makes it a powerful landscape to tell a story.

On Don’t Breathe featuring protagonists with questionable morals

You have to understand why they’re doing the things they’re doing. Rocky (Jane Levy) made a promise to her sister and she’s trying to deliver on that promise. It doesn’t mean you have to like her, but I think you can empathize at some level. You want characters with shady morals. Think of [Alfred] Hitchcock’s movies. Most of the characters have very shady morals — Jane Leigh stealing money at the beginning of Psycho and in Vertigo and in Strangers on a Train, everyone would do bad things. I think those characters are a lot of fun.

On making horror films during a time when society seems to be getting more sensitive about everything

We deal with that all the time. When you make any film, you try to do something that’s unique and will survive the passage of time and won’t disappear a week after it opens. I know the classic films that have accomplished that in the past usually have something that goes against society. Think about The Exorcist or The Omen or The Shining. All those themes and ideas brought big debate and had moments that were shocking. That’s what art should do. It should be provoking.

On being creative as a horror movie director

The more money you spend, the more restrictions you will have. You’re telling [a] story to the whole world… so you have to be able to tell a universal story and talk about something that anybody can understand anywhere. That’s the challenge. I always try to do something that is artistic and creative and strange and different. You can always take risks in movies. As long as you’re not spending too much money.

On original movies versus remakes

I think there is room for any kind of horror movies. Most of the time [if the remake is not good], you have to blame the writers and directors and creators. They tend to try to give the studios what they believe the studios want — the movie they greenlit. They take them what they think is a sure bet. Also, it’s about the audience. When [studios] make something original, nobody goes. I remember when Pacific Rim came out, it was this big movie and was completely original, but when the weekend came, everyone decided to go see some Adam Sandler comedy — Grown Ups 2. It’s a problem with all of us. It’s about what society wants to see.

On whether or not he would do another remake

Personally, I don’t think I would do a remake right away, but I might do one sometime. It’s really fun to refresh a story and try to bring it to an audience. If I was against remakes, that would’ve made my childhood and my teen years really boring because I wouldn’t have been able to see The Fly or The Blob or The Thing or [Invasion of the] Body Snatchers. Those great movies were remakes.