By Manik Sharma Sep. 17, 2021
Don’t Breathe 2 doesn’t have the urgency or the novelty of the first film, but it has enough dreary twists, hideous characters and another solid, if ugly, performance by Stephen Lang (the blind guy).
In a scene from 2016’s sleeper hit Don’t Breathe, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) exclaims “There is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.” Lang played a blind and brutal ex-military man in the straightforward yet chokingly gritty film that became the surprise hit of the summer. In the sequel to the film, Lang becomes the difficult-to-like protagonist facing up to another invasion and subsequently becoming the invader himself. “God is fair” he tells a girl he has apparently adopted years after the events of the first. Don’t Breathe 2 may not match the novelty of the first film, but it remains equally visceral and nightmarish to absorb with a host of grim characters thrown into the mixer of its unforgiving world.
In this sequel, set eight years after the events of the first film (which would technically make this the future) Norman is living with a young girl he rescued from the street after her house burned down. All grown up now, the tween girl, un-ironically named ‘Phoenix’ yearns for a life outside the home that Norman has built into a fortress of sorts. Initially, it’s hard to empathise with this side of Lang knowing he was in his past, a cold-blooded murderer and torturer. The Director Fede Alvarez, puts his faith in the fact that even reprehensible rapists can, in the world of cinematic illusion, be given a chance at attention if not redemption. Not necessarily by tracking back on their violent past sins, but by exacting new ones, with a nobler motive in mind. Beyond that moral loophole, the sequel is obviously set up to double down on the dread that the first film incidentally landed on. There are no good guys here, not even good intentions bar one.
Lang’s steely frame, his gruff muddled-by-his-moustache voice and his efficiency with murder make him a strangely believable grim reaper of sorts.
Lang’s house is invaded by people who have had a role in Phoenix’s past. Because it’s a grim world, these people aren’t exactly acting out of fond nostalgia or guilt but gruesome desperation. One of the most charmingly absurd things about this franchise is the bleakness of its characters, so ripe with menace and hate you kind of struggle to root for anyone; which makes the violence that much more gratifying and perhaps a tad difficult to sympathise with the painful ends of. There is, however, a lot of style here. The cinematography is on cue for the patently dark world-building, and the sound design continues to play a huge role in what has always been a franchise of few dialogues. There are a few more here and though Lang remains a weirdly fascinating narrator of a bleak worldview, it’s still the silences, the cautiously choreographed action pieces that cash in on the thrill.
It’s obviously a bit risqué to release a home invasion film in the year of staying home – one can’t help but ponder the possibilities of a pandemic set home invasion film – but Don’t Breathe 2 is a menacing follow up – not so much as to a film but a character really – that remains for all its horrifying conclusions, delightfully fun. Lang’s steely frame, his gruff muddled-by-his-moustache voice and his efficiency with murder make him a strangely believable grim reaper of sorts. In one scene he lies in a puddle of water, as if dead, waiting for a ripple to register someone’s presence. It’s a presumptuously simple, yet effectively chilling scene.
Though Lang’s character is the obvious pull for these Don’t Breathe films, in its second installation, the creators churn out more despicable scum from the repository of manhood – and the solitary woman. Junkies, potheads, people going out on their last limb to get any sort of kick in life, most characters in this world are so breathlessly void of emotion or compassion it makes for unsentimental viewing, seeing them get mutilated. Predictably, even the girl in the world is ahead of her time in terms of contemplating the brutality that unfolds and the feats of vile men that predictably push her towards some of her own. It goes without saying, there is no place for innocence in the world of Don’t Breathe. Even the kids have to arm themselves with a grittier wisdom beyond their years, beyond even their means.
Consequently, while Don’t Breathe 2 is less urgent and shocking than the first, it sustains its gory outlook and remains terribly watchable.
Lang’s character may have already run its course because the franchise already seems to be slowing in on a parking spot it better not drive beyond and yet, its brutality and physical exaggerations remain curiously appealing. Consequently, while Don’t Breathe 2 is less urgent and shocking than the first, it sustains its gory outlook and remains terribly watchable. Its strengths lie in stretching the blanket of darkness its characters live under, until, even a blind rapist can play foil to villains implausibly more sinister than him. It’s all very dark, even bizarre, but eminently watchable.
Manik Sharma writes on Arts and Culture.
He tweets at @Manik1Sharma