Director: Rodo Sayagues
Stars: Stephen Lang, Madelyn Grace, Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Around five years ago, Don’t Breathe made a little bit of rumpus as a nasty home invasion movie with a twist. A bunch of youths broke into a dilapidated house to steal from a rumoured cash box, only to encounter Stephan Lang’s ex-Navy Seal Blind Man who proceeded to take them all on and worse. Culminating with a truly WTF sequence which revealed Lang’s Blind Man as an enterprising sexual predator, Don’t Breathe disappeared again into the night and for the most part left our collective memories.
Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong direction, but this surprise sequel has appeared as stealthily as its sightless menace. There’s been very little coverage; indeed, no press screenings that I’m aware of (usually a red flag). Hell, I hadn’t even seen a trailer. I was lured in by just how unnecessary a sequel this seemed to be.
Bait enough to spend my Friday evening with it.
Set some years after the events of the first film, Don’t Breathe 2 sees our Blind Man settled in the outskirts of… wherever. If we know anything about him, we know he’d rather like a child of his own, and he seems to have gotten his wish. Kinda.
Plucking young Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) from the wreckage of a burning meth den, he has named her, raiser her as his own and we catch up to the pair honing her survivalist skills with faithful dog Shadow.
Our Blind Man still finds solace in seclusion, however, and its clear that Phoenix feels distanced from the world; schooled at home and kept on a tight leash (metaphorically speaking – you need to confirm such things with this guy). Day trips out with a befriended local park ranger, Hernandez (Stephanie Arcila), don’t quite cut it, especially when such excursions draw the unwelcome attention of ne’er-do-wells like Raylan (Brendan Sexton III). To begin with, one assumes that Raylan simply has a thing for little girls and/or an unhealthily obsession with Phoenix. Why else would he lay siege to her home with his murderous posse in tow? As a whole new home invasion starts to escalate, we come to realise there are a great many things Phoenix doesn’t know about her present situation…
Don’t Breathe 2 may lack some of the taught, claustrophobic precision of its forebearer, but it more than makes up for it in terms of bloody-minded toughness. If the first was surprisingly mean, this second excursion embraces and pursues that craven worldview to a fault. This is a nasty, grimy, ultra-violent piece of work; bloodier than most mainstream offerings this year, and with a penchant for wince-inducing cruelty.
Previous director Fede Alvarez (of the Evil Dead remake) makes way for Don’t Breathe co-creator Rodo Sayagues who, to his credit, shows some admirable flare. This can especially be said of the film’s midsection when Raylan and his goons start scouring the house for their prey. Sayagues lifts several pages directly out of David Fincher’s Panic Room playbook, using CG to swoop through banisters, and to connect a series of sinuous shots into a multi-storey traverse of the property. Indeed, the Panic Room influence is so pronounced that it even extends to the film’s end credits; chunky text suspended in the air, just like Fincher’s flick.
One of the immediate problems that Don’t Breathe 2 has to face is its decision to turn The Blind Man into a kind of action movie underdog that the audience is encouraged to root for. Considering that if anyone remembers Don’t Breathe it’s for that turkey baster sequence, this is a tough ask. Kudos, then, that Alvarez and Sayagues ultimately acknowledge this. Phoenix and Hernandez are the film’s only sympathetic characters, caught perilously between a rock and a very hard place. Raylan’s thugs make for an assortment of memorably ugly street toughs. While we’re never asked to forgive The Blind Man, there’s still some vicarious pleasure to be had watching him Gran Torino these reprobates.
The film’s final third is marked by a pronounced relocation to allow for the kind of boss-level showdown we’ve seen throughout action cinema, westerns, even video games. Don’t Breathe 2 also reconnects to its predecessor with the uncanny recurring theme of non-consensual medical procedures, in a manner almost as unseemly as last time around. Sayagues takes us through it all with the same ruthless efficiency, even stirring up some strange beauty at the film’s climactic confrontation at an abandoned swimming pool. Outlining characters in a peach haze commendably changes up the palette as the nastiness reaches an enjoyable absurd apex.
The thick scuzziness of Don’t Breathe 2 is its own soupy aesthetic, and it goes hard and confidently toward such ends. If you’ve got the appetite and the stomach for it, this is a fast-paced and well-staged chunk of grindhouse violence; one that never gets delusions of grandeur but that simultaneously makes the most of its lean premise. No one’s going to mistake it for film of the year, but if you’re looking for a movie experience to make you feel like you’ve survived a bum-fight at a tyre fire, look no further.