Cast your mind back to 2016 and you will recall the release of Don’t Breathe – a horror-thriller from director Fede Álvarez. The movie – based on a script by Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues – told the story of three youths, who break into the home of a blind man, only to discover he is not quite who he seems.
Don’t Breathe was both a critical and commercial hit, so shortly after its release Sony Pictures placed an order for a sequel. Jump forward to 2021, and today that sequel has arrived in UK and US cinemas, under the not-so imaginative title of Don’t Breathe 2.
Rodo Sayagues has taken over directing duties for this film, although Fede Álvarez remains on board as a co-writer. The film brings back original star Stephen Lang, who reprises his role of the blind man (aka Norman Nordstrom), while introducing a new cast that includes Madelyn Grace, and Brendan Sexton III.
Don’t Breathe 2 is set eight years after the events of its predecessor, and sees Norman now the father of an 11-year-old daughter, called Phoenix. Norman and Phoenix live in seclusion with their dog, and with the exception of Norman’s friend, Hernandez, they have no contact with the outside world.
But things change when Hernandez convinces Norman to give Phoenix a little breathing space, so she can venture outside. This proves to be a mistake, and soon brings a whole lot of trouble to Norman’s house, in the shape of a vicious gang.
In order to protect both his home and Phoenix, Norman takes on the intruders in a bloody battle for survival. But as events unfold, secrets are revealed, including the truth about how Norman can have an 11-year-old daughter, when only eight years ago he was a bereaved father.
Now anyone going to see this movie in the UK this weekend will probably notice one very significant thing: In the UK, Don’t Breathe 2 carries an ’18’ certificate. This is significant because the original film was a certificate ‘15’.
While both movies contain strong language and violence, this new entry does seem to have upped things a little. So, if you like violent home invasion movies, with plenty of colourful language, then this is exactly what you will get.
However, those hoping for something to equal or even surpass the first movie, in terms of its suspense or originality, will find themselves somewhat disappointed. Don’t Breathe 2 isn’t bad, but it is nowhere near as strong as what came before.
One of the key sticking points with this film is the central character, Norman, who at times is painted in somewhat of a sympathetic light, positioning him as the sort-of ‘hero’ of the film. This instantly feels at odds with who he is revealed to be in Don’t Breathe, where he is the villain of the piece.
Sure, he’s grown as a character between the two movies, thanks in large part by a second opportunity to be a father, but this is a confirmed murderer and rapist we’re talking about, so it’s difficult to find the goodness in someone who does bad things. Simply being the lesser of two evils in a story, does not make you someone to route for.
The second big issue I had with Don’t Breathe 2 is that a large chunk of this film feels like a big re-tread of what has come before. The first half of the story plays on the home invasion angle and this means it’s the same old thing.
OK, so this gives the movie the opportunity to inject a little tension, and highlight some good use of lighting, but for the most part there’s nothing new. Where is the freshness? Where is the originality?
It is only at the midway point that something resembling new material starts to show up, which is when the motivations of the gang are finally revealed, causing a momentary shift in the film’s setting. But rather than use this as a jumping off point for a whole new direction, the film soon returns to yet more home invasion antics, and it feels like another dollop of what was just been served up.
There are bright spots, and those come in the shape of Stephen Lang who is once again excellent in the role of Norman, as well as Madelyn Grace who plays Phoenix. Both actors have a strong presence, and they bring believability to their roles.
I would have liked to have seen a little more from their relationship at times, but what is shown is perfectly acceptable. These two characters are somewhat intertwined, and this becomes the key point of this story.
But take these two out of the picture, and this would just be a bog-standard horror thriller. OK, so it looks great, but the story is severely lacking – and this is a huge problem for me.
Some parts work, some don’t, but overall it feels as if the script needed another pass before the film went into production. Either the first half needed to be reworked, or the second half did, because the two together just don’t work.
When Don’t Breathe first arrived in cinemas, I went into it knowing practically nothing about the movie. What I discovered was a neat little horror that surprised me enough that I actively recommended it to anyone who would listen.
I can’t really say the same for Don’t Breathe 2. I wasn’t surprised about anything in the movie – not even the big twist (which is clearly sign posted early on) – and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it either.
If you are a fan of the original and you are keen to see what comes next then you may find something to like here. For me, this is fine, but nothing more and I can’t see me revisiting it in the future.