How likely is it that a second group of people would be stupid enough to break into Stephen Lang’s house to try and steal something of value to him? That’s the unlikely premise of “Don’t Breathe 2,” which can’t match the novelty and thrill of the original 2016 hit-shock.
His clever idea was that he was blind, and in theory an easy target for thieves. Little do they know they are dealing with a terrifying Gulf War veteran who is intimately familiar with every square foot of the place and whose other senses are heightened, making him an unstoppable killing machine. Alvarez and Sayagues co-wrote the script for the first “Don’t Breathe” with Alvarez directing; this time, they share co-writing credits with directing Sayagues.
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They can’t just recreate “Don’t Breathe.” It would be no fun and a waste of everyone’s abilities. Instead, they took Norman Nordstrom Lang and gave him an excuse to leave the house. The result is crazier and wilder but never tense or tight. And it’s even harder to support him in successfully defeating his invaders, knowing what we know from the first film about his brutal past. However, there is some style on display here, including one impressive long tracking shot through Norman’s home early in the break; glimmers of such intricate choreography and cameras appear elsewhere, but this sequence is the highlight. And by surprise from his white hair and muscular skeleton, Lang always gave off a formidable presence, achieving a menacing air through little more than his growl and steely physique.
A house fire leaves a little girl orphaned and alone in the middle of the road; Norman scooped her up, took her home and raised her as his own daughter. He also named it Phoenix, which is just a little on the nose. Norman had locked her up in their dilapidated Detroit home, but now that Phoenix is twelve years old (played by Madelyn Grace), she desperately wants to have a normal life, make friends, and go to school. On one of his weekly field trips to run errands with a trusted friend, we saw why the outside world is such a dangerous place.
(Along those lines, it’s hard to determine if this is the best or worst time to release a film called “Don’t Breathe 2” about people staying inside their homes all day; the fact that it’s only showing in theaters shows that the studio is hopeful. You are willing to leave yours.)
When a bunch of tweaking idiots followed Phoenix back home, led by skinny Brendan Sexton III, we finally figured out what they were really doing there. The resulting twists go from exciting to crazy, but they change things up, turning a fairly standard home invasion thriller into something wilder and more whimsical and—at times—very funny. Sayagues’ understated use of silence, creaking doors, and sluggish footsteps in the film’s first half gives way to grisly bloody violence and vivid sound design as Norman battles and outsmarts his attackers. Phoenix constantly reacts, either using the survival tools his “father” taught him or receiving new information about his true identity. Meanwhile, the subplot about an organ trafficking ring and a nearby children’s shelter feels awkward.
But the boldest feat of all in “Don’t Breathe 2” is his attempt to completely rehabilitate Norman. It’s amazing and even unusual that a studio film would offer such moral ambiguity to its horror hero—and that’s exactly what he’s here for, comparatively speaking—but the cause of his torment remains until the very end. There’s an unavoidable nausea, despite his good efforts now and an obvious love for dogs that serves as a shorthand for his redemption. It’s a compliment to Lang that we’re willing to follow him on his unexpected journey and genuinely care if he can keep kicking ass away from the familiar confines of the house. He is still superhuman, even though his humanity is severely flawed.
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