At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Don’t Breathe 2

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action Horror Thriller/Stars: Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III, Madelyn Grace, Adam Young, Bobby Schofield, Rocci Williams, Steffan Rhodri, Stephanie Arcila, Diaana Babnicova, Christian Zagia/ Runtime: 98 minutes

A long time ago, actually in August of 2016, a film helmer by the name of Fede Alvarez managed to do something truly wonderful and give audiences an enjoyable as heck slice of horror cinema known as Don’t Breathe. A film he made in the aftermath of his fairly enjoyable 2013 take on Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe is a successful twist on the typical home invasion plot scenario that, complete with a unique trinity of “heroes” and a shocking monster for an antagonist, manages to hurl at the viewer a collection of bleak curveballs that will keep you on the edge of your seat and constantly trying to figure out just how this is all going to play out. Suffice it to say that Don’t Breathe is a visceral, extremely-well made, and brilliant thrilling cinematic ride that is one I have rewatched with just as much delight as the first time I saw it… how in the bloody heck did things go as awry as they did for the sequel? I mean not only is this one written by the same duo as the first one consisting of Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues its Sayagues who directs this go-around and it’s downright odd just how horribly it butchers a lot of ingredients that were so wonderful about the first movie. Indeed instead of complex characters as well as a novel take on this iconic subgenre we instead get a movie that expects us to cheer on the bad guy from the first one in a narrative that is both excruciatingly run of the mill and just downright idiotic. Yes it is as brutal as the first one was in terms of the violence shown and Stephen Lang is still just as formidable as ever, but by the time you get to the final act of the film you’re less likely to be terrified and more likely to be laughing because you can’t believe how something so phenomenal the first time around has managed to become something so stupid this time around.

The plot is as follows: Making the choice to not really give audiences any degree of narrative continuity with the first movie from 2016, Don’t Breathe 2 gets its narrative underway as we see that some time has come and gone since we last spent time with our favorite blind maniac Norman and starts as we see young woman fleeing from a house that is completely engulfed in flames. From there, we see that 8 years after this traumatic incident, the young girl, now going by the name of Phoenix, has been taken in by Norman as his new little kid to replace the one he lost a long time ago. With that in mind we see that while Norman raises her to be able to survive no matter what, this also sees her life feeling increasingly sheltered since he rarely lets her out of their home. Things soon take a turn for the nightmarish though when Norman’s home is once again invaded though this time instead of three young hoodlums it’s a pack of ruthless thugs being led by a scumbag named Raylan. We also learn that what they are seeking is Phoenix herself and as for Norman himself well he’s, for all intents and purposes, expendable. Of course there is a mystery to why these people are doing this, but trust me when I say that the solution to said mystery is just as repulsive and apprehensible as anything if not slightly more so than our new “buddy” Norman ever did in the first one. Thus it’s up to Norman to use his training and take out this group of thugs whilst also making sure that Phoenix is kept safe no matter what the cost.

Now I will be the first to admit that the blind guy ehhh Norman played by a jacked and downright terrifying Stephen Lang is easily the best ingredient that the original Don’t Breathe from 2016 had going for it. I say that because to me it is absolutely baffling to me in regards to this follow-up is how it just completely and utterly mistranslates the aspects that you could at one time appreciate about this character. This is because, by and large in the history of cinema, the blind and up there in the years person with combat experience who has people break into their house is someone worthy of their sympathy. In the first film however, spoiler alert by the way, this is just thrown in front of an 18-wheeler and run over at least 50 times when he learn that this “just another blind guy” is actually a brutal and visceral monster who is doing some pretty messed-up things. Thus with the first film setting this up about this distinct character, I really don’t understand for the life of me why Don’t Breathe 2 thought the best and most successful narrative path for audiences to go down was to attempt and get them to see this guy with more sympathy and the person you should root for in this narrative. Yes if you never saw the first movie, (in which case why on Earth are you watching this?) or you forgot how the first movie played out (which makes sense given the first one came out half a decade ago), but apparently the filmmakers forgot about the third category which is everyone else who did see this and/or who do know about the plot of the first one. Suffice it to say then that, by and large, a lot of you who remember that this is the same guy who had someone imprisoned in his basement and who was using a turkey baster for means that has no place whatsoever at Thanksgiving dinner will be downright appalled by the genuine desire this sequel has in wanting you to applaud this man for not only trying to be a good guardian for this little girl, but also in dispatching these “bad guys” to save her. Thus yes this slice of cinematic pie does try to make this guy and his actions that we previously viewed as “disturbing” now into something resembling vaguely “heroic”, but ultimately I think it’s safe to say that you, the viewer will still never be able to be see them as no more and no less than “appalling”.

Now the problems I have with this slice of cinematic pie’s horrific blunder to try and reframe how we are supposed to view the character of Norman don’t end with what I mentioned in the previous paragraph since this is one decision that quickly and tragically sinks this whole follow-up by and large. I mean not only is this monster impossible to even care about let alone view as this movie’s “protagonist”, but this also soon leads to a much bigger issue since, with the exception of the young actress playing the little girl, there is not one character that is likable at the least and worth rooting for at the most. I mean sure the duo of protagonists in the first one from 2016 might be hoodlums, but they do also have things about them that make them worth empathizing with as we see that Rocky wanted the money so she could give her sister and herself a better life and Alex because he totally has the hots for Rocky. This follow-up on the other doesn’t even have an inkling of anything in that vein. This is because since I guess the movie is trying to compose some kind of puzzle behind why this group of home invaders are doing what they’re doing in this one not a single one is given any degree whatsoever of characterization and instead props them up to exist as just a one-note being that Norman can then dispatch in a variety of ruthless and bloody ways. Instead what occurs by making this creative choice is you are just engaged in watching a heck of a lot of ruthless and visceral brutality go down and you are not able to engage in the least. Thus we see that there are no stakes to be found in this slice of cinematic and in terms of the narrative there is no momentum meaning that even running, with credits, 8 minutes over an hour and a half this movie feels like it is in an odd sort of limbo where yes things are happening, but you have no idea either how far along you are or if you should even care about the people it is happening to.

Ultimately, besides a semi-game performance from the returning and still formidable Stephen Lang, I honestly feel that the only component that has still managed to satisfyingly transition over from the first installment to this one would have to be the brutal style on display. Indeed film helmer Rodo Sayagues does manage to do fairly riveting work at keeping up the dark mood and vibe that his predecessor did on the first one complete with fairly lengthy shots that take place in environments that are both bleak and just downright gloomy in equal measure and the same can also be said about this slice of cinematic pie showcases violence to us. Indeed the most creative thing that this film undoubtedly would be the downright brutal ways that the main character “deals with people” be it using superglue on an individual’s nasal cavity and mouth (a situation that soon requires the aid of an old screwdriver to rectify) or in cramming a bell down another’s mouth in order to use him as a walking tracking device of sorts. Yet as rivetingly visceral as these moments are, they still don’t have half the impact they deserve because there is almost nothing else that is meaningful enough to support it.

All in all and at the end of the day I suppose that yes I guess I should give credit where credit is due to Don’t Breathe 2 in that this slice of cinematic pie does thankfully not engage in the horrific atrocity that a lot of follow-ups do commit in the form of choosing to be lazy and just give the viewer the exact same narrative as its predecessor just regaled to us in a distinct way (even though this one does go back to some degree to the home invasion framework that the first one did). Having said that, the actual execution of what we do get for this slice of cinematic pie sadly is not that much better in the grand scheme of things. Indeed not only does it take away to a large degree of what made the first film so terrifying and nightmarish, but it also makes a huge blunder in placing its focus on the villain from the first one only to have things quickly snowball out of control from there with a cast of characters that are one dimensional at best (despite game work from the returning Stephen Lang) and a narrative that is completely and utterly absurd especially when it comes to the “secrets” it holds dear. Suffice it to say then that if you saw Don’t Breathe and loved it as much as I did then please do yourself a favor and avoid this movie with a ten and a half pole. If however you are in need of a quick horror fix and you can’t locate anything else then I suppose you could do worse, but at the same time if you really looked long and hard enough I’m sure you could also do better as well. Make of that what you will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Don’t Breathe 2 a solid 2.5 out of 5.