In his new horror/thriller “Don’t Breathe,” filmmaker Fede Alvarez 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. Alvarez, who is originally from Uruguay, hit the mainstream conscious in 2013 with his solid remake of the 1981 “Evil Dead.” During an interview with me, Alvarez, 38, 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 high demand.
In the remake of “Evil Dead,” you were dealing with a demonic spirit. In “Don’t Breathe,” your antagonist is a man. How do you take on this kind of character in comparison to your last?
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” is 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. Also, everyone is doing something in the ghost world now, so I wanted to do something different than the trend.
As horrible as we all know humans can be, do you think it is as easy to fear a man as much as something like a demon?
It’s all about the point of view of the director and the camera and the story and the situation. It might not be scary at all if I show it the wrong way. It’s always about the art of how I tell the story. Also, this is a movie that is 50 percent horror and 50 percent thriller and maybe even a little heist movie. That makes it a little more complex. You can’t just make it about the fear factor. If you do that, you might get tired of the idea. Here, we switch from horror to thriller to heist throughout the story. That’s why I like it.
Did you find it hard in this film to make the kids likeable because their moral compass isn’t spotless? I mean, their nowhere near Stephen Lang’s character, but they’re still doing something wrong.
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. I think it’s easier to understand her and why she does what she does. 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 is doing bad things. I think those characters are a lot of fun.
Do you think it’s going to be harder for filmmakers like you to make the films they want in the horror/thriller genre because so many people these days are getting more and more sensitive about certain things?
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 theme and ideas brought big debate and had moments that were shocking. That’s what art should do. It should be provoking.
Do you think there is still room in the horror genre to be creative?
I definitely believe there is. It depends on how much money you spend. The more money you spend, the more restrictions you will have. What is unique about Hollywood is you can tell a story about a little town with a few characters from that town, but you’re telling that story to the whole world—from here to Japan to India to France to Uzbekistan. Movies play in those theaters, 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.
I thought you did a solid job with “Evil Dead,” but it seems like all Hollywood continues to want are remakes—“Poltergeist,” “Carrie,” next year we’re getting a remake of “It.” When I interviewed you in 2013, you said you’re “part of [the] group of people that bitches when they find out someone is going to remake a classic movie.” Do you still feel the same about remakes?
I think there is room for any kind of horror movies. There’s room for original movies and remakes. 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. [Studios want] a sure bet. Also, it’s about the audience. When [studios] make something original, nobody goes [to see it]. I remember when “Pacific Rim” came out, it was this big movie and was completely original, but then the weekend came and 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.
Would you 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. When I was making “Evil Dead,” I knew a lot of my audience wasn’t going to even know it was a remake. They thought it was a new release called “Evil Dead” about these kids in a cabin. If you’re a 18 or 19 year old, [the original] “Evil Dead” is a movie that came out ages ago—before they were born and they don’t care. What are we going to be—movie fascists and demand that the audience knows it is a remake? The reality is they just want to see something that is entertaining. “It” is coming out. I’m good friends with the director [Andrés Muschietti]. Most people that see it are just going to know their seeing a movie based on a Stephen King novel and they’re going to enjoy it. I’m not a fan of the original, but some of us who know it’s a remake may bitch about that, but the reality is they won’t care if you make a good movie. I think it’s bad if you make a bad remake that damages the legacy or the original. That’s away painful to watch.