Don’t Breathe 2 is a cathartic action romp that swaps the original’s tense, claustrophobic atmosphere for gory over the top kills. Unfortunately, while there’s a certain amount of fun to be had from the Blind Man’s new rampage, the film never really manages to reconcile its new, more heroic take on the former villain with the horrific twist of the first movie.
Ignoring the original horror movie’s cliffhanger, Don’t Breathe 2 picks up The Blind Man’s aka Norman Nordstrom‘s (Stephen Lang) story eight years after Rocky broke into his home. In the intervening time, our hero (although calling him that seems a gross overstatement) has adopted an 11-year-old who he rescued from a fire.
Norman spends his days training this little girl so he’ll never lose her like he lost his biological daughter to a drunk driver. Their weird domestic life comes crashing down around them, though, when a chance encounter with a stranger results in Norman’s new daughter being kidnapped. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t go down well with the Blind Man, and he takes painful revenge on those who wronged him.
The first Don’t Breathe was a tense, closed-in thriller about a home invasion gone wrong; the sequel isn’t. Now sequels shifting genre isn’t immediately a bad thing, it worked with Alien and Aliens, for example, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Don’t Breathe 2 as a basic revenge flick.
There’s just something very satisfying about seeing bad people punished for their crimes, and watching the Blind Man, who is once again underestimated by his enemies, punching, crunching, and stomping his way through some terrible people is really enjoyable. If you like your movies drenched in more fake blood than Tom Savini’s workshop, I suspect you’ll enjoy the violent spectacle of it all.
Cinematographer Pedro Luque manages to showcase all the gruesome details in stylish and exciting ways, and director Rodo Sayagues does a good job capturing the spirit of the first movie, even though the film does miss the panache of Fede Álvarez.
Unfortunately, the thriller movie fails to overcome its biggest hurdle, the legacy of the first film’s twist. Warning, spoilers for a five-year-old movie! The first Don’t Breathe’s big twist was not that Norman was a ruthless killing machine; it was that he was keeping the woman who killed his daughter hostage in the basement. Worse than that, he’d got her pregnant by artificially inseminating her with a turkey baster and was keeping her prisoner until she gave birth to a new child for him.
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As horrific as this is, it worked for the character when we weren’t supposed to sympathise with him. The Blind Man was supposed to be an entitled monster who thought just because he’d lost someone that he could take from others. This character trait is continued into the second film, but the movie wants you to sympathise with him.
He’s our lead character, we see the world through his eyes, and it just felt gross. That reveal at the end of the first movie was so iconic and shocking it’s burned into my brain, and I can’t forgive him. To continue the comparison from earlier, it would be like a sequel to Alien where the Xenomorph still used Ridley’s mates as living incubators, but James Cameron wanted us to be cool with it because it turns out that there are some worse crack-smoking aliens down the space street. No, I’m sorry it doesn’t work like that.
The film’s clearly aware of this problem as well, and it does try and reconcile with it a little bit, but it wimps out in the end, allowing Norman to be the hero he isn’t. It’s a shame because the twist in Don’t Breathe was so strong and a bold choice for a studio horror film to make in 2016, but this just feels a bit toothless.
I liked Don’t Breathe 2 for what it was: a bloody revenge thriller in the same vein as pulp classics like Death Wish. But it lives in the shadow of its horror movie predecessor and its failure to address the crimes of the Blind Man make it a real letdown.