Don’t Hold Your Breath for Don’t Breathe 2 (2021) to Re-capture the First Film’s Magic
Title: Don’t Breathe 2
First Non-Festival Wide Release: August 12, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Rodo Sayagues
Writer: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Starring: Stephen Lang, Madelyn Grace, Brendan Sexton III
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Years after the events of Don’t Breathe, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) is living in a new house with a child (Madelyn Grace) he rescued after a fire when she was younger. On what seems to be a regular night, a group of armed men break into his home to take his daughter away from him amidst a rash of child organ thefts within the city. As always, there is more to this story as the girl he calls his daughter discovers the truth about her life and the man that raised her.
Not as pulse-pounding of a thrill ride compared to the original, Don’t Breathe 2 provides competent horror mayhem and ethical dilemmas.
The sequel to the smash 2016 hit film Don’t Breathe struggles to justify its existence. We have another situation where bad actor faces off with another bad actor, which intentionally makes it hard for viewers to know who to root for. This is on-brand for the series, but after revelations in revealed in the first film, it feels weird that they set up Norman to be more of the de-facto hero than anti-hero. There’s still an uncomfortable reality where you know you may be siding with the wrong person at times, but it feels more tipped toward him. The motivations and decisions from the antagonists, however, do not make sense to me.
The ultimate reason being why Phoenix is taken and why an entire team of criminals would risk everything for her. We learn that Phoenix is abducted by her father and introduced to her mother. Eventually we find out that her mother needs a heart after falling ill to complications from the explosion in her meth lab. This is also what caused the fire where Phoenix was rescued by Norman. The criminals are all in not because they care about reuniting a family, but so they can save their meth cook to keep their operation afloat. This rationale is weak when you apply any sort of pressure to it. My sole question is: can it be that hard to find someone else to make your drugs? This reveal deflates the whole film for me and gets too convoluted for its own good.
Lang does an outstanding job convincing us that his character is real and that his motivations are genuine. A few story choices make the story feel silly and implausible, especially when dealing with mechanics of Norman’s blindness. The leaps of logic are excessive; it’s clear that it is sacrificed for pacing purposes. There are some interesting ways that Norman uses his senses to murder and maim. One of my favorites, which is shown in the trailer, is following the waves created by footsteps in a pool of water. The rest of the cast does a fine job opposite of Lang. The antagonists get a bit over-the-top at times but its forgivable.
My thoughts are very conflicted regarding Don’t Breathe 2. On one hand, it’s a rather taut and fun action horror film that delivers on its premise without asking too much from the audience. It gets a little cheesy at times, especially when handling anything sentimental but there is a certain sweetness about Phoenix, particularly Madelyn Grace’s performance. On the other hand, its moral quandaries are noticeably sourer now that Norman’s character is more fleshed out and has clearly done awful things to earn his reputation as a deadly, evil man. At the end of the day, Don’t Breathe 2 posits that everyone must come to terms with the things they’ve done and how that’s affected others. Is that enough for you?
It doesn’t match the intensity, or shock value of Don’t Breathe, but this sequel does a good job of maintaining the momentum of its high concept plot. Norman doesn’t quite get the story arc people are weary of, or hoping for, but he’s developed just enough to become more than a highly trained assassin trying to mess up some teenagers. At its worse, Don’t Breathe 2 is clunky and asks for plenty of leaps in logic and its best it delivers some highly satisfying moments of carnage that will leave the audience gasping for more. Watch it if you want but don’t catch your breath hoping for something better than the original.
Overall Score? 6.5/10