In 2016’s “Don’t Breathe” Stephen Lang introduced us to Norman Nordstrom, a blind Gulf War veteran with uncompromising survival instincts but also a pitch-black violent side. Now five years later we get an unexpected sequel that thrusts the far-from-heroic Norman into the role of protagonist. That may (and should) have fans of the well-received first film scratching their heads. But don’t worry, the damaged ex-Navy Seal still has his gruesome mean streak.
Going in it’s tempting to ask why make a sequel? Do the filmmakers have something new up their sleeves? Are they expanding on the first film? Well, not really. In fact, a big chunk of “Don’t Breathe 2” is more or less a rinse-and-repeat of its predecessor. Yet there’s fun to be had with this simple yet fleet-footed sequel that plays like a blood-soaked 70’s grindhouse flick. If you look at as anything other than that you can expect to be disappointed.
Rodo Sayagues directs from a script he co-wrote with Fede Álvarez. Both worked together on the first film and bring the same grisly edge to this one. Part two also casts its audience into the same moral muck as the first film, luring us into rooting for an unsavory character and then questioning ourselves for doing so. But the freshness of “Don’t Breathe” 2016 doesn’t find its way into the follow-up, and rooting for Norman leaves you feeling icky. Then again, as Álvarez made clear to his Twitter followers, it’s supposed to.
Eight years after the events of the first film, Norman is still living in the rundown abandoned suburbs of Detroit. But this time he’s not alone. He has taken in and raised an 11-year-old girl named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) who lost her family in a house fire eight years earlier. Now Norman poses as her father, teaching her survival drills and drowning her in his own paranoia and cynicism.
Just like in the first film, a group of hoodlums target his house, except this time it’s not for a large stash of hidden cash. Instead they come for Phoenix which pushes Norman right back into the savage killer mode he had worked hard to suppress. With his heightened senses and an assortment of gnarly blunt instruments at his disposal, Norman turns into the little girl’s protector leaving plenty of carnage in his wake.
As you make your way through the film’s first half you might swear you’re watching a segment from the 2016 movie. With the exception of some opening table-setting, Phoenix’s presence and one terrific long take inside Norman’s dark thug-infested house, everything in the opening 40 minutes or so seems cut from the same cloth as the original.
But then you get to the second half where things begin to slide off the rails (in a good way or a bad way, depending on how are you look at it). The story takes a wacky turn and throws in a macabre twist which is where the gonzo grindhouse vibe really kicks in. If you take it too seriously you’ll have a hard time digesting how bizarre things get. But if you take it lightly, like most of the crowd I saw it with did, you may find yourself having a pretty good time, wincing at some of the gorier moments and chuckling at the unexpected shots of subtle black comedy.
Even with fun to be had, “Don’t Breathe 2” doesn’t really leave much of an impression. Minus some fairly entertaining final act shenanigans, the movie basically rides the formula that made the first film an unexpected surprise. The little girl does add a new wrinkle, but she’s not quite enough to make us fully buy into Norman’s transformation. But now I’m breaking my own rule and putting too much thought into it. Stick to viewing “DB2” as a schlocky B-movie. That’s the way to go. “Don’t Breathe 2” is now showing in theaters