Review: ‘Don’t Breathe 2’ (phoenix rising)

Borrowing an overused plot device, the sequel doesn’t stray too far from its origins.

With an out-of-context opening scene introducing a young girl with an unusual white streak of hair, the action flashes forward eight years instead of jumping days into the past. The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) finally has a child to care for again — Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) — but he no longer trusts the world to keep her from harm. His friend Hernandez (Stephanie Arcila), a former Army Ranger, warns “Norman” that hiding Phoenix from the world will only make her yearn for it, something he fears more than anything. Unfortunately, someone already has their sights set on the girl, but who they are and what they want will test Norman to his breaking point… especially since he already knows what little happiness he rightfully deserves.

The 2016 film Don’t Breathe set an unusual benchmark, an ultra low-budget thriller made on a shoestring (and looking far more expensive) earning a global following. It’s no surprise a sequel would be on the way, but waiting five years to release it was more than just a pandemic stall. Director Rodo Sayagues again teams up with co-writer Fede Alvarez for a slightly longer cut and only really continuing with one character from the original film: the wronged self-righteous ex-military blinded former father played by Stephen Lang. The original film painted Lang’s character with a long brush, layering his faults until audiences found themselves rooting for the lesser evil. Trailers for the sequel suggest The Blind Man has a new charge and renewed purpose, but does that mean he finally succeeded in his original plan and comeuppance is due, or has he turned a new corner and — in that most Marvel of ways — must become the hero an innocent needs, past deeds be damned?

Minor spoiler: it’s the latter, but Norman (if that is The Blind Man’s real name) knows what he’s done and is prepared to accept the consequences. Since this switch-up is telegraphed into the trailers, it eliminates one of the biggest mysteries that the original played with. To replace it, Norman also endures much that he inflicted upon others through a series of callbacks that makes Karma a character much like an unseen Death is ever-present in the Final Destination movies. This isn’t to say there aren’t surprises; the filmmakers play with expectations in much the same way as the original, because the only way to make a big bad a hero is to create bigger bad to go up against. While never reaching the originality of the first film, it’s nonetheless pure fan service, and that isn’t a bad thing here.

The sequel’s secret weapon is the game and capable Madelyn Grace as Phoenix. As the plot puts her front and center, she is introduced as a Hanna-esque character in training… cut short when inevitable plot points occur. From that point, secrets begin to unravel, from who Phoenix is, how Norman ended up with her, and everything in between. To the film’s credit, the introduction of the younger character doesn’t pull the rating down to a PG-13; instead, the filmmakers push the envelope to see what they can get away with. Like the original, many things are happily suggested more than they’re shown, but it does follow through on trailer-promised carnage and a heck of a body count.

Some of the latter bits feel like a franchise checklist suggesting what viewers can’t help but already know: more is in the planning depending on how much this film makes. Those who avoided the original film won’t be compelled to watch the sequel, but the effect for fans is maximized when re-watching the original before enjoying part two. Still, one must wonder how things are going out in California…

Don’t Breathe 2 is rated R for strong bloody violence, gruesome images, language, and knowing when to forgive when your instinct is to destroy.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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