I loved Don’t Breathe.
The film is simple and effective. A kid breaks into a house and is hunted by a surprisingly strong blind war veteran. It was creepy, intense, and knew the value of keeping a story simple while focusing on sympathetic characters and a terrifying villain. It did get cartoonish by the end, but it didn’t bother me because it felt like a payoff to a gradual build. It was a tremendous hit at the box office, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that we’d get a sequel. But the film worked as a stand-alone film, so I couldn’t think of where the story needed to go. When I saw Don’t Breathe 2, my doubts were validated, as it was both unnecessary and a far cry from the first.
Don’t Breathe 2 reunites us with Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), but this time with an 11-year-old daughter, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace). When she’s confronted by men trying to abduct her, Norman is forced to fight them off and protect her. Immediately, the film radically shifts the structure from the first film, with Norman being framed more as an anti-hero than a straightforward villain. This isn’t the first time a film flipped a movie monster into a hero; Terminator 2 famously did the same thing. I admire the filmmaker’s attempt to try something different rather than copy the first film. However, the filmmakers don’t do much to get me to want to follow him. They barely acknowledge the horrible, brutal things Norman did in the first film. While I don’t need my main characters to be saints, he was an absolute monster. Not even a fun monster like the T-800, he’s a genuinely horrible human being who only works as a villain. I need a reason to root for him and want to see his daughter rescued by him. The film presents his relationship with his daughter as overbearing, so the whole time I kept wanting Phoenix to leave this movie altogether. These distractions made me notice some pretty glaring holes in the writing.
Making Norman the lead also demystifies him as a character. Stephen Lang is a great actor who gives the character weight and poise, but the film moves too fast to allow him to build an aura. It’s easier to build grandeur when you’re the villain and not the film’s focus because the lack of attention can lend mystery. Here, he’s not given the menace the character had in the first film because we see too much of him and his struggle. The filmmakers try to give him an arc, but we don’t see the arc develop because he doesn’t have any moments of reflection or character development. He does change, but we don’t see how. Instead, he just moves along with the plot.
The acting ranges from good to silly. Stephen Lang is excellent, which is to be expected. He’s comfortable playing Norman and knows how to sell vulnerability and ruthlessness simultaneously. Madelyn Grace is okay as Phoenix. She’s not at all annoying like a lot of child actors can be. However, she’s still pretty green and doesn’t show the strength needed for the character to work. The abductors are all cartoonishly over-the-top. I found myself laughing at their attempts to be menacing as their performances reached the point of lunacy.
Don’t Breathe 2 is pointless and poorly written. It’s not terrible; there are some fun kills and decent attempts to built tension and atmosphere. If you’re just looking for cheap thrills, you’ll be fine. However, considering the challenge the filmmakers found themselves in to make a sequel of an excellent self-contained horror film, they failed. The writing is bad, the characterization doesn’t make sense, and even the scares aren’t strong enough for me to go along with its story. The more they tried to build the film’s scope, the more cracks in the film revealed themselves. Just stick with the first film.