If you think you know what happens in Don’t Breathe 2, you’re wrong. A master class in avoiding the repeated trappings of sequels, Rodo Sayaguez and Fede Alvarez’s follow-up to the 2016 horror-thriller will leave your expectations (and morals) tied up into a pretzel. Unafraid to wade into the deep end of depravity, the duo craft 98 minutes of suspense, action, disgust, and dark humor that will glue your eyes to the screen.
Eight years after the events of Don’t Breathe, Norman Nordstrom aka The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) resides in solitude with his young daughter Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) and his guard dog Shadow in suburban Detroit. While out on a rare excursion away from home with Norman’s only outside contact, Hernandez (Stephanie Arcila), Phoenix is approached by gang leader Raylan (Brendan Sexton III). The gang follows the girl home with plans to abduct her. As the thieves of the original film learned, Norman is not your average senior citizen. However, Raylan isn’t just some random criminal either. The past comes back to haunt them both, and Norman must tear his way through the gang, that now know the truth behind The Blind Man, to save his daughter
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“Unafraid to wade into the deep end of depravity, [Don’t Breathe 2 is] 98 minutes of suspense, action, disgust, and dark humor…”
Early on, I struggled to find my footing on this one. The story jumps right into Norman living a life of solitude with a daughter he…somehow… acquired. With the infamous turkey baster scene from the original film a vivid memory still, the film takes its time revealing her origins, making for an extremely uncomfortable several minutes. Fortunately, the question desperate for an answer does get one, though it does very little to relieve the anxiety. Once again, a group of hooligans comes knocking on Norman’s door in an apparent retread of the original film, and with this, I was nearing ready to check out. Then came the twist. Don’t Breathe 2 flips a massive switch, and I instantaneously jumped along for the ride.
To answer the question you’ll see most often associated with this film – How do you “root” for a rapist? The answer is – you don’t. Instead, the writers introduced an equally reprehensible antagonist and tipped the scales of “who is worse” via a very simple but extremely effective character trait – The Blind Man‘s endearment to dogs.
In many ways, Don’t Breathe 2 mirrors none other than Freddy vs. Jason. In that classic, the writers clearly skewed the story to favor Jason Voorhees as the lesser of the two evils, leaving us to “root” for a mass-murdering zombie. Of course, wishing for Jason to kill Freddy does not equate to an endorsement for the murder of countless horny camp counselors. I highly commend writers Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues for purposely avoiding the easy route this film could have taken. Instead of The Blind Man viciously killing more flawed but favorable protagonists in a continuation of Don’t Breathe, we are forced to get behind him in his conquest to save the only innocent character in the story – his daughter. At its base level, Don’t Breathe 2 is about watching a terrible person do terrible things to even more terrible people.
An unforeseen star of the film is the dark humor riddled about, which landed at just the right moments, and incredibly effectively. One of the gang henchmen who infiltrates Norman‘s house suffers several injuries that parallel Marv from Home Alone, albeit to a slightly more serious end. Once the third act begins, the film explodes into a full-on exploitation flick. I can’t in good conscience spoil them, but there are several lines of dialogue and several sequences in the final 20 minutes that had me laughing out loud and shocked at the same time. I cannot reiterate enough how much fun this film is once you accept that there are no real heroes here.
Many of the attributes that made Don’t Breathe successful can be found in this sequel. Stephen Lang’s performance is a home run and one that should solidify him a spot in the tier of horror film boogeymen reserved for villains like John Kramer, aka Jigsaw. Sayagues takes the directing reigns from Alvarez, but the same intensity and suspense that Alvarez brought to Don’t Breathe are transferred to its successor. The same can be said about the set pieces and the overall brilliant use of lighting and sound. The duo continues to showcase their talent behind the camera, as does cinematographer Pedro Luque, who also returned for the sequel.
I’m not willing to weigh in on the question of which is the better-constructed film, Don’t Breathe or Don’t Breathe 2, for even though they share many similar elements, the paths they escort you down are vastly different. It’s this that propels Don’t Breathe 2 past your atypical follow-up film. It’s a rarity to find a sequel willing to jettison the formula that worked so well in its previous film, all in the name of creating something unique and different. By the time the credits rolled, the first thought that crossed my mind is, “how did this film even make it here?” Perhaps as a whole, we’ve become so accustomed to one-note villains, (“good” triumphing over “evil”) that it’s shocking to walk out of a film so completely depraved and emotionally unforgiving. Rest assured, your moral compass will be turning all sorts of circles with this one. But not every film needs to be as morally cut and dry as an episode of Full House. I highly recommend taking the batshit crazy journey Don’t Breathe 2 dares you to go on.
“It’s a rarity to find a sequel willing to jettison the formula that worked so well in its previous film, all in the name of creating something unique and different.”
Don’t hold your breathe, see Don’t Breathe 2 in theatres today! Once you’ve taken the necessary time to organize your feelings, come on over and discuss what you thought about it over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.