Grade: C-

Three young intruders invade the home of an elderly blind man expecting easy pickings, but find themselves the prey rather than the hunters in “Don’t Breathe,” Fede Alvarez’s follow-up to his gory, humorless remake of “The Evil Dead.” It’s an improvement over that movie in that it’s less bloody and gruesome, at least until the final reel, when it opts for some gross-out moments. But while it deploys horror tropes efficiently—indeed, it’s little more than a catalogue of them—the movie disappoints for several basic reasons.

The first is the characterization of the house-breaking trio. Simply put, these Detroiters are pretty dim bulbs, and frankly not a likable bunch, though the script tries hard to drum up some sympathy for two of them. The obvious scumbag is Money (Daniel Zovatto), a sneering, nasty thug who of course turns out to be much less tough than his pose would suggest. For some reason this scumbag is the boyfriend of pretty Rocky (Jane Levy), who’s desperate for enough money to take her young daughter to California, away from the malignant influence of her own drug-and-alcohol-addicted shrew of a mother. Then there’s Alex (Dylan Minnette), a doe-eyed sap so infatuated with Rocky that he steals the keys to the houses they burgle from his father, who runs the security firm that services them all. (One has to accept the presumption that cops are dumb, but even the stupidest of them would, one would think, notice that common thread to the robberies.)

In any event, the trio smell a potential big score when Money, of all people, notices that a shabby place in the middle of an otherwise totally abandoned area is owned by a blind Iraq war vet (Stephen Lang), who got a $300,000 settlement when his daughter was killed in an auto accident. Assuming that the loot is somewhere in the house, which just happens to be a part of the security system run by Alex’s dad, he and Rocky argue that they should hit the place, even while the reclusive guy is inside, and Alex, the schmuck, reluctantly agrees to the idea after Rocky rolls her eyes at him.

The sheer stupidity of the plan is exacerbated by the fact they decide to break in at night. Now given that nobody is ever around and they know the guys only comes out to walk his dog, it might have seemed a better idea to sneak in while he was doing that and then accost him on his return, when they could benefit from confronting him in the daylight. Be that as it may, instead they drug the dog (but not much, since he wakes quickly for a few “Cujo” scenes later on), break through a window (since the keys Alex has brought don’t work) and then try to render the sleeping homeowner unconscious with some sort of smoke bomb (which is, of course, thoroughly ineffective). Then they ramble about looking for cash in a house so crowded with junk that it’s impossible to believe any blind person could get around in it.

That’s one big problem with logic here. But then the movie descends into the goofiest coincidences to generate gasps with its endless string of gotcha moments. Set aside the scenes when the dog suddenly jumps from out of frame onto a car window (accompanied, of course, by a loud burst in a score by Roque Banos that mostly consists of burps, thuds and occasional shrieks) or the one in which one of our heroes has a gun put to his head and the trigger is pulled, only to reveal that the thing has suddenly run out of bullets). Those are the banal genre clichés one expects in movies like this. But the rest of the picture is just a chain of such hackneyed moments and happenstance. It’s sheer dumb luck, for instance, that Rocky is hiding in a closet from which she can not only glimpse the safe in which the blind man keeps his money—but watch him dial in the combination as well! To be fair, the picture does offer an ugly twist toward the close—a revelation that, if logically considered, would certainly have brought a thorough police search of the place a long time ago. But of course at that stage the script isn’t concerned with even an iota of logic, but merely with generating one more empty jolt.

On the positive side, Alvarez, working closely with cinematographer Pedro Luque and editors Eric L. Beason, Louise Ford and Gardner Gould, proves an adept stager and arranger of these calculated shock effects. But over the course of nearly ninety minutes the law of diminishing returns sets in, and by the end even the sudden death of a major character is a ho-hum affair. And, of course, the performances are purely functional, though veteran Lang does get a rare chance to show off his facility for grimness as the fellow who shows that a physical disability is no impediment to kicking burglar ass.

It’s possible to imagine an effective scenario that could have been written using the basic premise of “Don’t Breathe.” But especially coming after “Lights Out,” this silly take on the darkness-is-dangerous theme is a distinct also-ran: the earlier film was far more imaginative, clever and amusing.