Review: ‘Don’t Breathe 2,’ starring Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III and Madelyn Grace

August 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Stephen Lang and Adam Young in “Don’t Breathe 2” (Photo by Sergej Radovic/Screen Gems)

“Don’t Breathe 2”

Directed by Rodo Sayagues

Culture Representation: Taking place in Detroit, the horror flick “Don’t Breathe 2” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: In this horror sequel, a blind Gulf War veteran battles against more intruders who invade his home. 

Culture Audience: “Don’t Breathe” will appeal primarily to people who like watching mindless, ridiculous and violent horror movies.

Stephen Lang in “Don’t Breathe 2” (Photo by Sergej Radovic/Screen Gems)

At some point, the filmmakers of the “Don’t Breathe” franchise gave up all pretense of making realistic horror and decided to lean into very campy foolishness. In “Don’t Breathe 2” (a follow-up to the 2016 sleeper hit “Don’t Breathe”), the franchise’s elderly blind protagonist fights more like Marvel’s blind superhero Daredevil than a regular human being who is blind. Depending on your tolerance for dumb horror movies, you’ll either be amused and/or bored when watching “Don’t Breathe 2,” but you probably won’t be scared.

“Don’t Breathe 2” was written by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who also wrote “Don’t Breathe.” Álvarez directed “Don’t Breathe,” while Sayagues makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Don’t Breathe 2.” The difference in the quality of films is very noticeable. “Don’t Breathe” is a taut, believable thriller, while “Don’t Breathe 2” is a ludicrous mess. It might be hard for some viewers to believe that both movies were written by the same people.

In terms of characters, the only one from “Don’t Breathe” who’s in “Don’t Breathe 2” is protagonist Norman Nordstrom (played by Stephen Lang), who isn’t a virtuous hero but more like an anti-hero. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” viewers don’t even really find out Norman’s name. In the end credits, he’s only listed as “The Blind Man.”

Both movies take place in Detroit and have a small number of cast members. In “Don’t Breathe,” almost all the violence happened in Norman’s house, while “Don’t Breathe 2” has other locations for fight scenes in addition to Norman’s house. Fair warning to people who get easily squeamish: Compared to the first “Don’t Breathe” movie, “Don’t Breathe 2” has lot more gratutitous violence and is more fixated on showing close-ups of people’s bloody wounds.

People don’t need to see “Don’t Breathe” to understand what’s going in on “Don’t Breathe 2,” which is supposed to take place several years after what happened in “Don’t Breathe.” In “Don’t Breathe,” Norman battled against three young thieves who broke into his home to steal about $300,000 in cash that they knew he kept in the house. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” his home invaders are organ harvesters. Yes, you read that right.

What would organ harvesters want with a senior citizen who’s blind? It’s eventually revealed in the movie, but it has to do with the girl who is living with Norman. Her name is Phoenix (played by Madelyn Grace), and she’s about 12 or 13 years old. An early scene in “Don’t Breathe 2” shows that Norman has been training Phoenix to defend herself. In this idiotic movie, Norman is magically able to run through dense places like a forest or a cluttered hideaway he’s never been to before, without the use of a cane or guide dog. And he never trips or stumbles.

Phoenix is homeschooled, and she has no friends except for a young woman named Hernandez (played by Stephanie Arcila), who drives a van for a company called Lake Park Fern and Plant Sales. Norman is extremely protective of Phoenix, but he trusts Hernandez to take care of Phoenix when Phoenix needs to go somewhere that would require someone to drive her there. Hernandez comments to Norman about his parenting skills to Phoenix, “You know, you either need to loosen up that leash, or she’s going to bite it off.”

How did Phoenix end up living with bachelor Norman, whom she calls “Father”? That answer is also revealed in the movie. But a clue is in the movie’s opening scene, which shows a girl, who’s about 4 or 5 years old, walking from a burning house into the middle of a street and then lying down in the street, as if she’s in shock. The movie then picks up eight years later by showing Phoenix and Norman doing a personal safety test exercise, where he pretends to be a kidnapper who’s after her.

Phoenix fails the test because Norman was able to come up behind her and ambush her. She tells him that she’s sorry she failed the test. Norman says he won’t be able to give Phoenix more freedom until she passes all of her tests.

The movie reveals another clue about Phoenix’s identity when she’s giving Norman a haircut and asks him if the white streak in her hair is because Norman has white hair. Based on his answer, Norman has told Phoenix that she’s his biological daughter. And where is Phoenix’s mother? Norman has told Phoenix that her mother is dead.

And the reason why there are no photos of the mother is because “everything was lost in the fire,” says Norman. It’s implied that Norman told Phoenix that her mother died in this fire. However, there’s a major plot hole later in the movie. In order for this plot hole to be credible, viewers would have to believe that Phoenix has no memories of her childhood before she was 4 or 5 years old.

People who saw “Don’t Breathe” will know about Norman’s backstory that he lost his first daughter in a car accident that was caused by a wealthy woman, who gave him a $300,000 settlement that he kept hidden as cash in his house. And there’s something in that movie that reveals how far Norman was willing to go to have another daughter. In “Don’t Breathe 2,” Norman shows remorse by saying he’s sorry for all bad things that he did in his past. It’s so people who might not have seen the first “Don’t Breathe” movie will know that Norman is far from being a saintly victim.

Besides Hernandez, Phoenix’s closest companion is the family dog: a Rottweiler named Shadow. Strangely, the movie never really shows Shadow being a guide dog for Norman, who usually moves around like a person who can see. The only indications that he might be blind are in scenes inside the house where he occasionally extends his arms in front of him, or when he’s in attack mode and uses a weapon like a blind person.

But too often, there are scenes where Norman ambushes people with perfect precision, like someone who can see. One example is a laughably unrealistic scene where he attacks an intruder in the house by breaking a window from outside and putting a chokehold on the intruder who’s near the window. How did he see the intruder through the window if he’s blind? Don’t expect any logic in almost all this movie’s action scenes.

Norman is a Gulf War veteran, which is why he has combat skills. It still doesn’t explain why blind Norman can fight like a person who can see. He does use a few tactics that help him figure out where his targets are. But for the most part, the movie wants viewers to literally believe that blind luck is why Norman is able to fight like a superhero, even though there are no supernatural elements to the story.

One day, Phoenix and Hernandez are out for a drive together so that Phoenix can be outside for some exercise at a local playground. The playground is near an orphanage called Covenant Shelter. Some of the shelter kids are the playground too. But they ignore Phoenix, who is lonely and fantasizes that the kids have asked her to join them in their social activities.

When Phoenix has to use a public restroom nearby, she has a strange encounter with a sleazy-looking man who is loitering inside the restroom. He introduces himself as Raylan (played by Brendan Sexton III), and he tells Phoenix that she’s pretty. Phoenix, who has her dog Shadow with her, has her guard up and tells this creep to leave her alone, or else her dog will attack him.

Raylan backs off, but not before stroking Phoenix’s hair as she leaves the restroom. As Phoenix and Hernandez drive off in the van, Phoenix tells Hernandez about this uncomfortable encounter and assures her that she’s okay. Hernandez gets a good look at Raylan, who sees her eyeing him suspiciously. Instead of reporting the incident to the police—to at least alert law enforcment that a man is loitering in a public restroom and touched an underage girl there—Hernandez does nothing and takes Phoenix home. Do you think this will be the last time they’ll see Raylan? Of course not.

Meanwhile, a scene in the movie shows a TV news report that a doctor is under suspicion for operating an organ trafficking ring in the Detroit area. It should come as no surprise to viewers that Raylan and some other thugs are part of this gang that harvests and sells organs. And somehow, they end up crossing paths with Norman, Phoenix and Hernandez. And not everyone makes it out alive.

Rayland is the top henchman of this crew. All of the subordinate thugs are very generic with no backstories. They include Duke (played by Rocci Williams), a bearded tough guy; Jim Bob (played by Adam Young), a sadistic scumbag who wears his blonde hair in a mullet; Jim Bob’s younger brother Jared (played by Bobby Schofield), who looks like a broke version of Justin Bieber; and Raul (played by Christian Zagia), a muscular type who shows glimmers of having a moral conscience.

The fight scenes between these criminals and Norman are very predictable, violent and gory. The movie offers some suspense in a sequence where Phoenix has to use her agility and wit to try to hide in the house from the home invaders. But, for the most part, the showdowns are exactly what you would expect them to be, if you expect more ludicrous fight scenes on display. There’s a plot reveal in the last third of the movie that won’t have the intended impact because it’s just so moronic.

None of the “Don’t Breathe 2” actors does anything outstanding because their characters are written in such a two-dimensional way. The filmmakers wasted an opportunity to show more of the father-daughter relationship between Norman and Phoenix, which would have given more emotional resonance to what happens in the latter part of the movie. It seems like the filmmakers spent more time on the fight choreography than on crafting a good story.

“Don’t Breathe 2” is a perfect example of why so many movie sequels are inferior to the original movie. It’s a sloppily made film that took what could have been a solid horror franchise and ruined it with an asinine, boring story that uses formulaic violence and gore as a lazy way to try to scare people. “Don’t Breathe 2” won’t terrify most viewers, but it might give some unintended laughs at the stupidity of it all.

Screen Gems amd Stage 6 Films will release “Don’t Breathe 2” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.