Director: Rodo Sayagues
Notable Cast: Stephen Lang, Madelyn Grace, Brendan Sexton III, Stephanie Arcila, Rocci Williams, Bobby Schofield, Adam Young, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Steffan Rhodri
Ten times out of ten, I’m the kind of person that will defend a franchise. There’s a reason that Blood Brothers is the mothership of the No Franchise Fatigue Movie Podcast and I’m one of the co-hosts of it. I am not the one to ever say that a sequel (or any other additional entry to a franchise) ruins the original. No one says Halloween (1978) is a worse film for the fact that Halloween 6 exists. With that being said, boy howdy, do I find Don’t Breathe 2 to be a wholly perplexing sequel that takes bold (and confusing) swings with its premise and rarely connects despite some solid execution on a visual and atmospheric standpoint. Don’t Breathe 2 is tonally more exploitative than its predecessor and yet the film feels the need to over-explain itself.
When the film was first announced, the choice from director Sayagues and co-writer Alvarez to make the villain of the first film, The Blind Man, the new protagonist was met with very mixed results. It’s not that villains haven’t been converted into protagonists in the past, certainly Boyka in the Undisputed franchise or the Firefly Clan from The Devil’s Rejects are worthy examples, but the curve in handling the mountainous uphill climb to get an audience to root for The Blind Man was damn near insurmountable. It was ultimately a bold move and if they could pull it off, it could make a fascinating and provocative choice for a sequel and one that would be met with divisive response anyway. For that, Don’t Breathe 2 deserves some respect.
It’s just a shame that this sequel is not able to strike with its choices. Even if there’s a moment where The Blind Man hurls a hammer into a running baddie’s head. While the first film doubled down on the tension, keeping the film tightly moving in limited settings while delivering on its nuanced character work and leaning into its exploitative elements in key moments for maximum shock value, Don’t Breathe 2 is full exploitation. For those looking for more brutality, wilder spins of plot, and a set of villains that make its protagonist the lesser of two evils, then look no further. This. Film. Is. Nuts.
Oddly enough, the choice to move The Blind Man into a protagonist role essentially works. It’s taking a violent and spiteful character and putting him in direct conflict with a group of horrific villains and, quite frankly, that makes for an entertainingly dark treat. The violence is explosively brutal and the villains are purely despicable. Some of the kills are gimmicky, like a very intense moment with superglue, but the film sets up its dark silliness with relative ease to sell that violence as part of the world. Stephen Lang continues to dominate in the film as The Blind Man and his performance carries the film through much of its spotty narrative.
Too often though, Don’t Breathe 2 seems too concerned with filling in the gaps to make The Blind Man more humane. The relationship with his newly “adopted” daughter, played with some surprising on-screen presence by Madelyn Grace, is overly explained in the plot. Quite honestly, the film is far more concerned with providing a character arc for its daughter figure, Phoenix. That’s a smart move for the overall narrative. Still, in this case, a solid dose of ‘less is more’ would do the film wonders as it hammers in a lot of plot that gets in the way of the story. The reveal of the third act, why the group of villains has decided to kidnap the girl and invoke the wrath of The Blind Man, is bonkers. While I commend the film for throwing down that challenge, it pulls the film out of its “reality” for the sake of delivering some insanity. Trying to tie that into previous events is a bit of a stretch.
Truthfully, the best part of the film is the atmosphere and visual pizzazz that director Rodo Sayagues brings to the table. As a co-writer of the original, he shows his familiarity with the world of the film, and he replicates the style of Fede Alvarez (who remains on this sequel as a producer and co-writer) with strong effect. An incredibly tight and taut game of cat and mouse with the young girl and the villainous house invaders, shot as a one-take of her hiding and moving through the house to avoid detection, is a highlight of the film. Sayagues can hit most of the key moments with a keen eye. If anything, all the moments that work are owed to the cast and the director.
In the end, Don’t Breathe 2 struggles to find its balance in its storytelling and it drags down what might have been an impressively efficient and brutal horror thrill ride. The visual atmosphere is still intact, the violence is brutal and creative, the cast is on point, and the film leans harder into exploitation territory. It’s unfortunate that in pushing forward, it tends to lose some of its airtight tension and the film is desperately trying to sell its audience on giving The Blind Man a chance at redemption - to the point that it loses some of the mystery and wild card flavors it could have used by going all in. For fans of the original, Don’t Breathe 2 is not as effective, but it’s also not the train wreck so many have already claimed it to be. It’s well made even with some of its perplexing choices.