Nothing about Don’t Breathe inherently suggested a franchise. The first film in the now series was an effective home invasion horror/thriller hybrid, with a twist. Namely, the invaders were essentially the heroes, with the monster being the aggrieved party, a blind man. Obviously, the movie was successful, so now we have Don’t Breathe 2, whether the narrative called for it or not. That isn’t necessarily unique, but the filmmakers have been painted into a corner, considering the events of the flick. Well, in deciding to make the sequel one that paints the initial villain in a more sympathetic light, things go off the rails. This mostly is an effective continuation of what worked before, but it’s just gotten too ridiculous to recommend.
Don’t Breathe 2 utilizes a lot of what was successful in Don’t Breathe, as you might imagine. The fun of it being a bit new is gone though, so it does seem a bit like a retread. The effective jump moments and action sequences are still there, just with less originality. That really does define this second installment. When it goes for what happened last time, it works well enough, though to a lesser degree. When it tries to blaze a new trail…well…things get dicey.
This time around, there’s a time jump, after a very brief flashback. Taking place a handful of years following the initial home invasion depicted in Don’t Breathe, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) is living a quiet life. Along with a young girl named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) orphaned in a house fire that he raises as his own, they’re as secluded from society as can be. Their quiet existence is not long for this world, however as his past is about to intrude on their present. A group of kidnappers show up one night and abduct Phoenix, while telling her that Norman isn’t who he says he is.
Determined to rescue her, Norman must go out into the world after her. While he’s preparing to do that, Phoenix is learning from one of the kidnappers (Brendan Sexton III) about her past. I won’t spoil what happens in the third act, but while the front and middle more closely resembles the first flick, this back end goes in a far different and more ridiculous direction.
Stephen Lang is again a compelling physical presence. There’s more of him here, so while there isn’t too much new character development, Lang does get to show off the force of the character more. He executes the script well, even if it leaves him stranded a bit. Madelyn Grace is solid, though has to alternate between being capable and a damsel in distress. The villains are cheesy and cliched, even if Brendan Sexton III tries to add a little nuance to his part. Supporting players include Stephanie Arcila, Bobby Schofield, Rocci Williams, Adam Young, Christian Zagia, and more.
After having co-written the first one, filmmaker Rodo Sayagues now gets directing duties. Sayagues again pens the screenplay with Fede Álvarez, making this the same creative team. Unfortunately, while Sayagues decently apes Álvarez’s directorial style, their script is a step down. Besides unnecessarily killing a dog early on (though they do make revenge of the slaughter a prime moment later on), they never find a truly effective way to make Norman a hero. He may be more of an antihero, or even the lesser of two villains, but you’re meant to sympathize with him. That just never happens here.
Don’t Breathe 2 is a lesser sequel, to be sure. It isn’t without its thrills, and those who want more of the same won’t fully be disappointed. However, the filmmakers just aren’t able to get out of the corner they painted themselves into. This could have been a lot worse, admittedly, but it arguably should have been better.