2016s Don’t Breathe was a real gem of a film that I’d had on my watchlist for a fair while before finally getting round to watching and then wishing I’d done so sooner. From Uruguayan filmmakers Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez, it featured a relatively simple home invasion setup involving a group of young burglars who made the mistake of thinking they were going to have an easy time in breaking into a blind man’s house one night and robbing him of a large sum of money he had stashed away. Little did they know that the seemingly helpless blind man was in fact an ex Navy SEAL, a ruthless killing machine who knew his house like the back of his hand and, with heightened hearing that meant darkness wasn’t an issue for him in sensing his target. But in a sweet twist, we learned that Norman (Stephen Lang) wasn’t quite as innocent as we initially thought. A dark secret was being held down in his basement and Don’t Breathe cleverly manages to switch your sympathies, challenging your perception of who is the one we should be rooting for.
Don’t Breathe 2 is set roughly eight years after the events of the first movie. Norman is now raising an orphan girl called Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) as his own daughter, after rescuing her from the street as she crawled away from the burning wreckage of her home. He’s been teaching her some of those keen survival skills we’ve already seen him make use of and likes to keep her close by. But Phoenix is now desperate to attend school, make some friends and live a normal life of a girl her age.
During one of her permitted weekly trips into town with a trusted friend of her “father”, Phoenix is cornered by a dodgy looking man while exiting a toilet. Thankfully, her pet rottweiler comes to the rescue and Phoenix is able to leave and return home, unharmed and believing that to be the end of it. However, later that night, the man (Brendan Sexton III) arrives at the home of Norman and Phoenix, accompanied by a gang who look even dodgier than he does. We’ve already witnessed just how ruthless and sadistic these guys are, but it’s not clear at first why they’re so interested in Phoenix and/or Norman, and why they’re possibly about to make the same big mistake that the home invaders from the last movie made.
For the first half of Don’t Breathe 2, it’s basically another home invasion game of cat and mouse, but on a much larger scale. We’re now familiar with Norman and what he’s capable of, so there are fewer surprises in that area this time around. However, the addition of Phoenix, a child who finds herself home alone with some pretty dangerous intruders for a while, adds a whole new level to things. But she’s been taught well, and while she’s clearly not a match for the men who are looking for her, her evasion and hiding skills are outstanding and make for some nail-biting tension. She more than manages to hold her own, until Norman returns and begins taking care of business.
But we still don’t know why the gang singled out Norman and Phoenix. As brutal and as entertaining as the home invasion is, it’s clear that this isn’t a random target. And then the reason comes out, along with an explanation as to what they intend to do next, should their plan succeed. And it is absolutely ridiculous…
As that plan starts to play out, all hope I had of this being a decent sequel started to fade. Thankfully, the tide began to turn once more. Circumstances give Norman a chance to step outside his comfort zone, away from the familiarity of his own home as he seeks out the gang to confront them on their own turf. Reversing the home invasion roles provides us with another brutal round of cat and mouse.
There have been some concerns online that Norman Nordstrom has been repositioned as some kind of victim and hero for Don’t Breathe 2, like we’re supposed to forget the horrible crimes we learn of from the first movie. There are certainly times when you are rooting for Norman, but they’re usually when he’s looking out for Phoenix, or an endangered animal. Or he’s taking out someone who’s uglier and nastier than he is and really, really had it coming. But, for the most part, this is really no different than the first movie. It’s full of unpleasant characters, all with some kind of deep-rooted motive that they truly believe in, with some glimmers of humanity we can occasionally latch onto. And it includes a force of nature in the seemingly unstoppable Norman Nordstrom.
Don’t Breathe 2 isn’t quite as original and enjoyable as its predecessor, but aside from the completely bonkers plot behind it all, it’s still a fun watch.
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Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.