‘Don’t Breathe 2’: Film Review

Stephen Lang returns as a blind man who’s nobody’s victim in Rodo Sayagues’ ‘Don’t Breathe’ sequel.

A sequel that can’t be faulted for lack of ambition, Rodo Sayagues’ Don’t Breathe 2 attempts to turn the hero/boogeyman of Fede Alvarez’s 2016 original — “The Blind Man,” played by Stephen Lang — into a nigh-unstoppable thriller icon like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. In doing so, Sayagues and Alvarez (cowriters of both pics) say goodbye to the lean, self-contained format of the original in both setting and narrative, eventually taking a turn into campy menace that might be described as Detroit Gothic. Where the first film offered genuine scares, this one is suspenseful at best, snicker-worthy at worst, and will beg viewers to recall the time Fonzie got on water skis and tried not to get eaten by a shark.

Taking place at least eight years after the last film, this one finds the Blind Man living in the woods, far from the deserted Detroit neighborhood he once haunted in grief after losing his beloved child. He’s raising a new daughter, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), who knows nothing of the mother who died eight years back. There was a fire, Dad tells her, and he could only manage to save one of their lives.

Don’t Breathe 2

The Bottom Line

Replaces the original’s efficient thrills with campy extravagance.

Release date: Friday, August 13

Cast: Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III, Madelyn Grace

Director: Rodo Sayagues

Screenwriters: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Rated R,
1 hour 38 minutes

So did the Blind Man finally find the, um, surrogate mother he was looking for in the first film, or is he telling the truth? That’ll be revealed in time, but for now we see the parenting style of a man who lost one daughter to tragedy and has done horrible things trying to become a father again: He homeschools Phoenix, of course, and puts her through survivalist training appropriate to his military background. (We’ll learn he was a Navy SEAL.) Though loss had made him an atheist in the last film, now he teaches Phoenix that God is fair but harsh, ready to steal away anything you take for granted.

Maybe the girl takes her kidneys for granted. Because after a bit of dramatic buildup, a crew of ex-soldiers descends on the house, employees of a rogue doctor who runs an organ harvesting ring. Caught in the house alone, Phoenix evades the intruders with ninja-like stealth, the camera nicely tracking her clever moves in a nearly silent sequence. Dad comes home soon enough — in a crash-through-the-door attack that jettisons the first film’s pretense of believability — and makes life painful for the men, sometimes in novel ways. Soon the sprawling home plays host to a gory cat-and-mouse game, and the intruders’ numbers are shrinking.

I haven’t kept up with the market for illicit human organs, but surely they don’t sell for enough to make all this worthwhile? Turns out that the group’s leader, Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), has a bigger agenda than selling some corneas. It takes some doing, but he manages to get father and daughter separated, turning this into a save-the-girl flick with a side course of man’s-best-friend sentimentality. (The Blind Man has a real soft spot for mean-ass dogs.)

Grace proves a fine match for the action early on, but Sayagues and Alvarez aren’t that interested in making Phoenix an action hero. The character becomes more passive over time while the filmmakers focus on what Lang’s character will endure to save her. The Blind Man takes enough punishment here to make Mel Gibson envious, and as his tolerance for injury creeps toward the superhuman mark, so do his fighting skills. The first Don’t Breathe tested our credulity a bit, but let us pretend we believed a sightless vet could kill three would-be thieves on the strength of his smarts and training. Here, when we see the man whip out a pistol and shoot three soldiers from across the room, disbelief gets a bit harder to suspend. Lang is a great fit for the part, intensely physical and almost preverbal, but the filmmakers ask too much.

That goes double (make that quintuple) for a post-credits tag that asks viewers to believe this film could have a sequel. A prequel would make much more sense, if box office receipts demand it; one suspects Lang would welcome the chance to follow his character’s descent from happy fatherhood into lonely, vindictive rage. But it’s unlikely anything Alvarez and Sayagues could hatch would equal their fantastic first outing, which only veered off its minimalist path when it knew the twist would knock your socks off.

Full credits

Distributor: Screen Gems
Production company: Bad Hombre
Cast: Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III, Madelyn Grace
Director: Rodo Sayagues
Screenwriters: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Producers: Fede Alvarez, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert
Executive Producers: Joseph Drake, Rick Jacobson, Nathan Kahane, Stephen Lang, Andrew Pfeffer, Erin Westerman
Director of photography: Pedro Luque
Production designer: David Warren
Costume designer: Carlos Rosario
Editor: Jan Kovac
Composer: Roque Baños
Casting directors: Rich Delia, Rory Okey

Rated R, 1 hour 38 minutes