It’s been nearly 5 years since we last saw The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) nearly take down an entire group of petty criminals in Don’t Breathe, and now he’s returned for more murder and mayhem for the appropriately-named sequel, Don’t Breathe 2, which finds Rodo Sayagues at the helm this time, taking over for Fede Alvarez. There’s no denying that the sequel doesn’t quite hit the same tension-fueled heights as the first, but there’s still quite a bit of b-movie brutality on display throughout Don’t Breathe 2, and I really enjoyed how this time around, the story shifts away from The Blind Man and becomes the story of a young girl (played by Madelyn Grace) who goes through hell and becomes her own hero along the way.
Before I jump into my review, I want to go ahead and address the elephant in the room: there has been a lot of fervor online about making a movie where a rapist is the main character, or more specifically, turning a rapist into a hero. After seeing Don’t Breathe 2 twice now, I feel like that’s an argument being made by people who have either only seen the trailer or missed the point of the sequel, because in no way shape or form is the character of The Blind Man rehabilitated through his actions in Don’t Breathe 2. I can understand how the character is one that makes a lot of people uncomfortable - hell, there are parts of Don’t Breathe I still haven’t been able to shake off since 2016 because of just how disturbing Lang’s character is in that film. I guess the thing that I struggle with when it comes to this topic is that I don’t understand this idea of not being able to make movies about truly despicable characters at the center of them, because we’ve been doing that for decades now (American Psycho, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Devil’s Rejects are the big three that came to my mind when I was contemplating this issue). In any case, if you’re worried that somehow The Blind Man comes out of Don’t Breathe 2 smelling like roses or with a clean slate, he most definitely does not. And if anyone says he does, they really missed the point of the film’s narrative.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand.
Don’t Breathe 2’s set-up is pretty simple: about eight years prior to where the story picks up, The Blind Man finds a young girl abandoned on the street and takes her in to raise as his own. Over time, he trains her for the horrors of the world and tries to keep her tucked away because he knows just how screwed up society can be. The Blind Man’s instincts are spot on, as one night, a group of men led by the mysterious Raylan (Brendon Sexton III, who is giving off major Toecutter in Mad Max vibes here) shows up at their house, and they have their sights set on taking Phoenix away. They have their reasons though (none of which I’ll reveal here because that would be a huge spoiler), but none of these nefarious invaders could have ever possibly anticipated just how hard both The Blind Man and his ward would fight back, making their task a nearly impossible one.
As I mentioned before, Don’t Breathe 2 isn’t nearly as polished nor is it quite the tension-wrought experience as its predecessor either, but I do feel like Sayagues delivered up a gnarly directorial debut that revels in its unapologetically brutal nature and left me entertained from start to finish. On paper, it seems like Don’t Breathe 2 doesn’t really do a whole lot of heavy-lifting when it comes to its story, but if you dig a little deeper, there is a theme in there that examines the cyclical trauma of a young girl who has been dealt one raw deal after another in life, and the film really becomes a vehicle for Grace’s character to find a way to not only survive the events of the sequel, but come out stronger despite all of her life experiences as well. There’s more I want to say on this, but that would also venture into spoiler territory so I won’t. But suffice to say, I absolutely loved Grace’s performance in Don’t Breathe 2 and I truly think she’s the best part of the sequel far and away.
Don’t Breathe 2 also has several fantastic action-centric set pieces as well, with Lang showing off his physical prowess and his character’s ability to dominate any potential foes. Every fight feels different and unique, and I think Sayagues and his cinematographer Pedro Luque do a fantastic job of capturing all the unabashedly jaw-dropping violence during those sequences quite well. Something else I want to mention is that the second act of Don’t Breathe 2 has some major The People Under the Stairs vibes to it as well, and while I can’t exactly expound on that because that would also involve spoilers, I have to admit I found the direction the film takes at that point in the story a wholly surprising left turn that people are either going to love or they are going to hate (I personally loved it myself). That being said, I’m always a huge fan of when movies play with my expectations and Don’t Breathe 2 does that exceedingly well.
And while I’m still not exactly sure if we needed a Don’t Breathe sequel, the reality is that the first movie was hugely successful, which means that revisiting this world was a no-brainer from a business standpoint. Thankfully, Sayagues does a great job of not wanting to mimic the successes of the original too much and for the sequel, he sets out to create a cinematic experience in Don’t Breathe 2 that’s very different from anything Fede Alvarez did the first time around. Some of it doesn’t work quite as well as its predecessor, but the parts of Don’t Breathe 2 that do work have all the ear-markings of an above-average B-movie that features copious amounts of badass action but a star-making performance from Madelyn Grace that cements the young actress as a bonafide talent on the rise.
Movie Score: 3/5