Considering Fede Álvarez’s excellent home invasion thriller Don’t Breathe (2016) made $157M at the box office, from a budget of $9.9M, I’m surprised it’s taken five years for Don’t Breathe 2 to arrive. Presumably the delay was conceptual, as it would be hard to do something that didn’t lazily repeat the formula, so they needed a different angle, and original writers Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues eventually thought of one. Even if, frankly, turning Don’t Breathe’s blind villain into an avenging anti-hero comes with issues.
Sayagues makes his directorial debut with this sequel, which catches up with “The Blind Man” / Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) eight years later. He’s now living with an 11-year-old girl called Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) who treats him like her own father, having apparently been rescued from a house fire that claimed her birth mother’s life. Norman’s overprotective of his adopted child, and his fears for her safety prove warranted once she attracts the attention of a gang of men, led by Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), who are going around town killing people to sell their organs on the black market. One thing going for the Don’t Breathe franchise is how immoral and hellish it paints Detroit (a famously downtrodden backdrop for all manner of Hollywood movies), which gives everything such a skin-crawling atmosphere.
Inevitably, Raylan and his goons break into Norman’s abode, aware he’s blind and expecting an easy time stealing little Phoenix from under his nose, only to find this former Navy SEAL’s considerably tougher to outsmart than they imagined. Much like the first movie, Norman’s blindness isn’t much of a disability when you’re on his turf, as he knows every inch of his home like the back of his hand, with various weapons stashed around the place and the ability to stalk and kill intruders using his heightened senses of hearing, smell, and touch. Phoenix also proves to be just as difficult to catch, as Norman’s been relentlessly training her in the art of survival, but this night’s going to reveal a few secrets about Phoenix that her so-called dad is going to wish were left unspoken…
Don’t Breathe 2 was considerably less successful than the original (grossing $47M from a bigger $15M budget), but the COVID-19 pandemic may have limited its gross because it’s the kind of film its target audiences would happily wait to catch at home instead. But while it’s certainly nowhere near as good as its predecessor (partly because Álvarez is a better director, but also because the core concept was stronger before), this follow-up definitely has its appeal. The set-pieces are a little more elaborate due to the healthier budget, the violence remains uncompromising, there are some creative action set-pieces (the best involving a basement, a live wire, and a locker full of water), and even a few genuine surprises along the way. And once the big secret at the heart of the story is revealed, things wisely shift away from a home invasion movie into more of a vengeance thriller with Norman taking the fight to the villains, much like a suburban Rambo.
Running a crisp 99-minutes, Don’t Breathe 2 wastes no time getting down to business and there aren’t many dull moments if you’re in the mood for tense, raw kills and immoral behaviour. All the villains are effectively despicable and visually distinctive (ironically), Madelyn Grace makes a big impression as Phoenix, and Stephen Lang is on reliably bad-ass form as the blind man again.
It’s certainly an issue that we’re now being asked to take Norman’s side this time, but Don’t Breathe 2 just about makes it work by making the new villains even worse than him. I also appreciates the script not ignoring the fact Norman was a killer and rapist, by presenting him as a lonely freak who’s trying his best to atone for his sins. I was worried this sequel would feel like an alternate Halloween II (1981) where Michael Myers took pity on trick-or-treater and played daddy for an evening, but thankfully this film doesn’t upend things too badly. That said, watching Don’t Breathe 2 immediately after the 2016 film probably makes it tougher to swallow, as I had the benefit of distance from Álvarez’s movie, and that’s possibly the best way to go into this one.
There’s also a history of horror sequels rethinking with their concepts (often by making villains into wisecracking figures of fun), as they adapt to become long-running franchises. Don’t Breathe 2 doesn’t end the story, and since even this turned a profit, one hopes a third will get made. The vibe of these movie is like Panic Room (2002) meets The Purge (2013), as it all seems to take place in a ghost town version of Detroit that’s overrun with crime and where even the heroes are merely the less-evil ones.
I had fun with Don’t Breathe 2, which surprised me; it it had a few unexpected twists and some truly ghastly parenting decisions. It’s a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be and delivers exactly what the audience demands. The original’s a better-made movie with stronger characters and story, but this one’s a spirited return if you’re able to see the Blind Man try to find redemption.
USA • SERBIA | 2021 | 99 MINUTS | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Blu-ray Special Features:
Pedro Luque returns as cinematographer and delivers fine work for a movie that’s primarily dark and shadowy. Don’t Breathe 2 was shot on camera that can achieve 3.4K images, so this is most likely a 2K upscale. I wasn’t able to review the available 4K Ultra HD version with HDR10, which probably helps with the low-lighting, but the 1080p Blu-ray version looked clear to me.
We’re also missing the Dolby Atmos mix on this Blu-ray, but the DTS-HD 5.1 mix is still very good and certainly helps build the tension of the movie, as sound is a prime way The Blind Man navigates around.
- Alternate ending.
- ‘Friends & Filmmakers’ featurette. A five-minute introduction to this sequel by its two creators, who talk about their personal and professional relationship.
- ‘Bad Man (Slang is Back)’ featurette. A three-minute piece focusing on Stephen Lang (nicknamed ‘Slang’), with the filmmakers talking about their relationship working with the actor, and Lang himself talking about the character he plays.
- ‘Designing Deception’ featurette. A five-minute featurette about how the filmmakers decided to surprise audiences with the direction this sequel takes, how they designed their shots, and what went into creating the film’s stunts and sets.
- Audio commentaries with filmmakers. Rodo Sayagues has recorded a good commentary in English and one in Spanish with co-writer Fede Álvarez (with subtitles).
Cast & Crew
director: Rodo Sayagues.
writers: Fede Álvarez & Rodo Sayagues (based on characters created by Fede Álvarez & Rodo Sayagues).
starring: Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III, Madelyn Grace, Adam Young, Bobby Schofield, Rocci Williams, Christian Zagia, Steffan Rhodri, Stephanie Arcila, Diaana Babnicova & Fiona O’Shaughnessy.