Synopsis – The sequel is set in the years following the initial deadly home invasion, where Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) lives in quiet solace until his past sins catch up to him.
My Take – Imagine what it would look like if Michael Myers (from the Halloween franchise) or Jason Voorhees (from Friday the 13th series) suddenly found remorse for all the senseless killings they carried out, and decide to try a hand at parenting. Well, that’s exactly what happens in this sequel which boldly flips the status-quo of its predecessor, by now asking us to empathize with its surprisingly formidable villain.
Released in 2016 and helmed by director Fede Álvarez, Don’t Breathe saw Norman Nordstrom, a blind ex-Navy Seal, angry at the world for his daughter’s tragic death turn an attempted robbery at his home by a group of teenagers into nightmare scenario by unleashing hell on them, and carried out some reprehensible choices which included the use of a turkey baster full of semen to forcibly impregnate a woman trapped in his basement, all to fulfill his deranged blood-lust. But here, writers Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues (now taking up directing duties) refuse to acknowledge its main character’s horrific past and also aspire to offer redemption to the old man.
The obvious analogue would be how slasher franchise sequels increasingly understand that the audience return to simply root for the killer to butcher this next round of teenagers, but even those don’t position him in the narrative as a sympathetic protagonist.
The beauty of the first film was how it subverted home invasion expectations by making the perpetrators the victims of the violence, but the sequel follows a more conventional home invasion plot for the film’s half and goes off the rails soon as it forces us to embrace its morally repulsive story.
To its credit, the film knows its prized possession is Nordstrom’s ruthless physicality, and it does a splendid job of cherishing it till the very end.
Set eight years after the events of the first film, the story follows The Blind Man aka Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), a blind ex-Navy Seal veteran, now living a quiet life with his Rottweiler, and a 11-year-old orphan named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), who he has been raising as his own, mainly teaching her how to defend herself. But Norman is also very protective of Phoenix and rarely even permits her to leave the house or go into town.
However, their life is suddenly interrupted when Phoenix captures the attention of Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), who along with his group of men, breaks into their house with the intention of kidnapping her, forcing Norman to once again defend his home and his so called daughter.
Faces are crushed, bones are broken, limbs are removed, here, director Sayagues pulls no punches in brutality. While the first film played out like a slasher, the sequel is closer to an action film, with Norman and his assailants trading blows at every confrontation. Like the first film, the sequel is at its best when all of its characters are trapped inside Norman’s house. And director Sayagues creates exceptional tension, comfortably exploiting long stretches of quiet, and letting characters creep into and out of otherwise static shots.
But while the time inside Norman’s house is excellent, and feels like a clever echo of the first film, it goes off the rails when it moves out of the house, and pulls the film too far down into the muck. Which only gets weirder with the off-placement of over sentiments in the final act.
The film wants to tackle ideas of forgiveness and redemption, a noble idea, but with the wrong character. Without acknowledging his previous acts the sequel wants us to believe The Blind Man is an anti-hero not a villain. And both Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues are rather persistent that we feel sympathy for him. For example, at one point, he’s about to shoot a dog so he can escape, but ultimately decides not to. The sequence is dramatic with slow orchestral music to connote that he does have some sort of conscience, all because he won’t murder a dog.
Such a moment is almost comical as you realize that this is why we’re supposed to care about him. The Blind Man is not someone worthy of forgiveness, something which was well established in the first film and no amount of savoir act or finale set pieces can make someone forget his disgusting actions. This is a story that we didn’t need and barely confronts the events of the first film in a way that feels like we are supposed to forget.
Performance wise, Stephen Lang continues to be outstanding at portraying Norman’s physicality, and throws his entire weight behind every hit the character gets and gives. Every fight in this film looks like it hurts. Here, Lang plays the character smartly, and injects Nordstrom with the right amount of pathos and rage, to inspire fear and sorrow from a distance.
Madelyn Grace is also quite good as she able to deftly move through a range of emotion, from childhood anger to horror to rage, creating a believable and sympathetic character who is trapped due to the consequences of others’ actions. Brendan Sexton III effectively plays the nasty dirt-bag and is ably supported by Fiona O’Shaughnessy and the rest of the bad people ensemble. On the whole, ‘Don’t Breathe 2’ is a disappointing sequel let down by its tacky and delusional narrative flip.
Directed – Rodo Sayagues
Rated – R
Run Time – 98 minutes