DON'T BREATHE 2 ½
2021, R, 90 mins.
Stephen Lang as Norman Nordstrom / Madelyn Grace as Phoenix / Bobby Schofield as Jared / Rocci Williams as Duke / Adam Young as Jim Bob / Christian Zagia as RaulDirected by Rodo Sayagues / Written by Fede Alvarez and Sayagues
Sequels don't come any more fascinating and problematic than DON'T BREATHE 2, which comes out five long years after the first spectacularly effective nerve wracking home invasion horror thriller.
DON'T BREATHE from director Fede
Alvarez - who returns here as co-writer - featured a group of selfish
thieves that broke into the absolutely wrong home at the wrong
time, which was occupied by an elderly former Navy SEAL that, yes, was
blind, but was still a ruthlessly effective killing machine on top of
being a deplorable kidnapper, murderer...and things I'm still try to
process after my initial screening.
This follow-up entry continues the story of the sociopath, but
makes some unexpected attempts at radically altering our perceptions of
this troubled man, which helps make DON'T BREATHE 2 simmer with
considerably more intrigue than I was expecting.
Having said that, rehabilitating this mostly irredeemable monster
never fully rings true, not to mention that this sequel rarely has the
same level of nail-biting suspense of its antecedent.
BREATHE 2 takes place nearly ten years after the events of the first entry
and re-introduces us to the aforementioned military trained serial killer
Norman Nordstrom (the impeccably well cast Stephen Lang, still hauntingly
and physically intimidating as an on screen presence at a ripe 69 years
old). He has now - as impossible as it seems to be initially
believed - made the transition to...child protector...?
After a hellish house fire left a little girl orphaned and without
a hope in the world, in swooped Norman to rescue the child and raise her
as one of his own (let's just say that he avoided any type of child
Naming her Phoenix (yeah, pretty on the nose), Norman and his
faux-daughter live a life of relative happiness and security, despite the
fact that he has kept her completely secluded and guarded from the outside
world in every way possible.
Phoenix (a solid Madelyn Grace) respects and loves her surrogate
father (despite having no knowledge of his past indiscretions) and is
remarkably self-sufficient because of his "survival" training of
Predictably, though, Phoenix yearns to have a normal life on the
outside, which Norman forbids.
He knows the kind of cretins that lurk out there...well...far too
in pure DON'T BREATHE-ian fashion, a gang of gnarly troublemakers make the
cardinal mistake of invading the home of Norman...yet again...after
following poor Phoenix home one day.
The leader of the pack is Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), who seems
like a low life maniac at first, but as the film progresses he reveals
himself as a person that has a deeply rooted interest in Phoenix in
unexpected (and frankly preposterous) ways.
Arriving under the cover of night and launching a home invasion
that he considers to be a piece of cake, Raylan and his goon squad soon
learn that both Phoenix and her adopted papa are infinitely more resilient
and cunning than they expected, leading to violence of the most foul kind
being perpetrated on them via Norman's extraordinary abilities to read his
prey's movements with a pinpoint precision that would make Daredevil blush
with envy. Obviously, Raylan
and his crew have no idea that (a) Norman is an ex-SEAL and trained killer,
(b) an ex-psychopath, and (c) played by Stephen Lang, who has made a
career of playing psychopaths of varying degrees of insanity.
it would be easy to say that DON'T BREATHE 2 is just lazily regurgitating
the premise of the first film, which, to a reasonable degree, is true.
The modestly micro-budgeted DON'T BREATHE 1 was a real miracle of a
single setting thriller in the sense that it generated legitimate
Hitchcockian tension from largely its claustrophobic house settings and by
the overwhelmingly horrifying sensation of being trapped inside with a
blind, but lethal stalker. That
film was an exercise in pure undulating terror.
To be fair, DON'T BREATHE 2 does rehash the same predicament here,
but the psychological slant is far different in terms of our rooting
interest and identification with the burglars and the home owner.
The first film's co-screenwriter in Rodo Sayagues (making his
feature film directorial debut) steps in behind the camera this go-around,
and he generally infuses an evocative sense of style and sustained unease
in a handful of scenes. The
whole appeal of these films is the cat and mouse games between the hunter
and the prey, and Sayagues (with the skilful work of cinematographer Pedro
Luque) creates some memorable sequences of unpleasant dread, like a
seriously impressive single take tracking shot that careens throughout
Norman's house during the opening stages of the invasion.
As far as sequels go, DON'T BREATHE looks slick and polished
throughout and has considerable directorial flair; Sayagues is not phoning
it in here, folks.
thing that helps to elevate DON'T BREATHE 2 from being a one-note remake
of the first is that, like all good sequels, it tries to carry on the
story of the first by taking the characters and material in a fresh new
direction. On that basic
level, this is a successful sequel. In
the last installment, Norman was pure evil that seemed utterly incapable
of changing for the better, but here he's giving a pretty radical makeover
that I honestly wasn't expecting going in.
I find that kind of thanklessly ambitious.
The makers here are not making Norman a squeaky clean protagonist
here, mind you, and he's a doomed figure that obviously has too many
skeletons in his closet to count. Yet,
he has gone from killer to protector (well, he still kills here...a lot),
and you have to admire the boldness of that creative decision.
Plus, Lang is so bloody good playing damaged loose cannons in films
and remains a sinful pleasure to watch in both DON'T BREATHE entries.
He's still impossibly ripped for a man pushing 70, which makes the
multiple action sequences that he occupies feel fully credible, even when
the story developments built up around him strain credulity to the max.
And it's sickening fun watching Norman mow his way through home
invaders, only this time these crooks actually deserve their fates, unlike
appreciated the ballsy nature of DON'T BREATHE 2, but in the end I simply
found a majority of this film very hard to swallow, essentially on the
basis of character rehabilitation. This
sequel just isn't deep enough on a screenplay level to make Norman's
startling transformation feel authentically earned.
DON'T BREATHE 2 aggressively - and nonsensically at times - goes
out of its way to make Norman be the good guy. The makers here
really want us to forgive and forget what he did in the past.
That's pretty damn hard. Norman
committed so many deplorable crimes (which were revealed in DON'T BREATHE
1's weak, shock value riddled third act) that I was just not convinced
that he's a forgivable force of good here...and deserving of the mantle of
father figure and child protector. It's
really all quite paradoxical.
I liked the daring choice to do this with the character (how many
horror thrillers make the monster the savoir just two films in), but I
think that it requires a smarter screenplay to make this shift work.
Not assisting matters is how said screenplay has twists and turns
so preposterously loony that they make
those from the 2016 film look nonchalant by comparison.
DON'T BREATHE 2 starts as a home invasion thriller and then clicks
into a bizarre narrative about organ transplant trafficking that rarely
feels like it organically belongs in this film at all.
The villains of this piece are so over the top and have motives
that are so outlandishly far fetched that you have to wonder if they were
simply airlifted in from from a whole different film altogether.