Revenge is a fairly popular idea in film. People do terrible things to one another and the injured party wants revenge or all of the injured parties want revenge on each other until there’s no one left standing.
DON’T BREATHE 2 is the sequel to Don’t Breathe, featuring the return of both Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues as co-writers and partners. With Don’t Breathe, Fede Alvarez was in the director’s seat. This time around, Rodo Sayagues steps into the role of director. Don’t Breathe was a tense home invasion thriller with an ugly secret at its heart. None of the people in the movie were the good guys. That’s what made it so effective. Your sympathies were turned inside out and you had to examine how you just accepted the story that the filmmakers gave to you. It was a rigged game because the filmmakers withheld key information from the audience from the start, but it made the point that it’s easy for a filmmaker to do this. Much like the unreliable narrator trope, any audience can easily be led down the garden path by basic filmmaking techniques. Part of what made Don’t Breathe so interesting is its unwillingness to follow the usual rules in mainstream cinema namely that there had to be a good guy. In Don’t Breathe, there are really bad guys and some people who are slightly less bad because of their circumstances. Just like real life.
In DON’T BREATHE 2, an indeterminate amount of time after the events of Don’t Breathe, Norman Nordstrom has found himself as the dedicated guardian of an abandoned young girl named Phoenix. He’s fiercely overprotective of her and she’s lonely and rebellious. When Nordstrom is talked into letting the girl go into town, she is noticed by a strange man who sets a chain of events into motion that will change everything.
DON’T BREATHE 2 is a sequel and as such, is a slightly different iteration of the same basic themes. You can’t really expect that the film is going to be a completely different story. John Carpenter tried that with Halloween 3 and you can see how well that worked out until about twenty years later. It is an expansion of the themes in the first film and a resolution to the ideas that were used in Don’t Breathe. Many people were appalled by the “turkey baster” plot point in the first film and DON’T BREATHE 2 exists as the resolution to the justifiable anger about themes of rape in the first film. I do have to mention at this point that Rob Tapert is a producer on both Don’t Breathe films, and is also Sam Raimi’s producer/creative partner and producer of the Hercules and Xena television shows. He produced the original The Evil Dead film. You know, the one where a tree rapes one of the female characters. Just had to remind everyone about that. I’m not defending either of these things, but I am reminding you that this is hardly the first time that rape has been used as a plot point, and in a way that is not totally respectful to rape victims or that doesn’t have an understanding and respect for rape trauma.
The film once again stars Stephen Lang as Norm Nordstrom, and Madelyn Grace as Phoenix, Brendan Sexton III as Raylan. Stephanie Arcila as Hernandez, Christian Zagia as Raul, Bobby Schofield as Jared, Rocci Williams as Duke, Adam Young as Jim Bob round out the cast and all are doing fantastic work. There are no weak links here acting-wise, so the casting directors Rich Delia (Birds of Prey) and Rory Okey (Wrath of Man) did fine work. Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels) was the cinematographer of the first film and has continued the good work that he did there. The film is in darkness for most of its running time and, while the color schemes, blues, golds, and greens are familiar, the tones of the colors are mixed. For example, the blues have a mixture of grey and what seems like turquoise shade in them depending on the scene. There’s a scene where the invaders are in a doorway and the doorway is lit with gold, which usually symbolizes safety and warmth-perhaps as an irony, and the stairs and wall are lit with green.
The fighting set pieces are beautiful. In particular, the scene in the shallow pool of water, with Nordstrom playing dead, is amazing. The violence level is everything that you can expect from a horror film and one made in the style of exploitation films. You’re going to get your money’s worth on violence. There’s not a horrifically large amount of gore, but what there is looks really good and is, in the grand tradition of exploitation, both funny and appalling at the same time.
It’s hard to really talk about the themes of the film without spoiling the plot, but I’m going to try.
The old rule is the Hammurabi Code from Babylon and is now known as the rule of law in an altered and, some say, a more humane form. If someone takes your eye, then taking their eye in payback is just, and that no one is beyond the reach of justice. However, there is also the concept of atonement or redemption: that an evildoer may choose, of their own free will, to atone for their evil deeds or seek redemption by paying their debt to those they have injured. Usually what happens nowadays is that someone famous says or does something horrible or is found out about a past wrong and goes into PR mode. They issue a half-assed apology and stay off social media for a time and then come back as if nothing were wrong. Problem solved. That’s really not how it should work. For someone to really atone for the wrong that they have done, they have to learn their lesson. They must admit what they did and ask for forgiveness. If they cannot do that, because the wounded party is no longer here, they must pay a price. It’s like the sacrifice from Constantine.
DON’T BREATHE 2 is a well-made, thrilling, and necessary sequel to the thrilling first film that had a real issue to address in its attempt to be shocking. I think it has some good things to say about the brutality of our armed forces, that it creates monsters, and about the nature of redemption and atoning for past sins.
DON’T BREATHE 2 will be available exclusively in theaters on August 13, 2021.