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.

Review: ‘Wrath of Man,’ starring Jason Statham

May 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Holt McCallany, Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Rocci Williams in “Wrath of Man” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Wrath of Man”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action flick “Wrath of Man” features a nearly all-male, predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A crime boss goes undercover as an armored truck driver to avenge the murder of his teenage son, who was killed during a heist of an armored truck.

Culture Audience: “Wrath of Man” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a predictable and violent movie with no imagination.

Raúl Castillo, Deobia Oparei, Jeffrey Donovan, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso and Scott Eastwood in “Wrath of Man” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

The fourth time isn’t the charm for director Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham in the vapid action flick “Wrath of Man,” their fourth movie together. It’s tedious and predictable junk filled with cringeworthy dialogue and stunts with no creativity. People who are familiar with Statham’s work already know that his movies are almost always schlockfests that are essentially about violence and car chases. However, Ritchie’s filmography is much more of a mixed bag. “Wrath of Man” isn’t Ritchie’s absolute worst film, but it’s a movie that could have been so much better.

Ritchie co-wrote the “Wrath of Man” screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson. The movie is based on the 2004 French thriller “Le Convoyeur,” directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and written by Boukhrief and Éric Besnard. Ritchie and Statham previously worked together on 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (Ritchie’s feature-film debut), 2000’s “Snatch” and 2005’s “Revolver.” Whereas those three movies had plenty of sly comedy with brutal action, “Wrath of Man” is so by-the-numbers and soulless, it seems like a computer program, not human beings, could’ve written this movie.

The movie’s simplistic plot could’ve been told in 90 minutes or less. Instead, it’s stretched out into a nearly two-hour slog with repetitive and unnecessary flashbacks. In “Wrath of Man,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Statham plays a mysterious crime boss who’s out to avenge the murder of his son Dougie (played by Eli Brown), who was about 17 or 18 and an innocent bystander when he was shot to death by a robber during a heist of an armored truck.

Dougie’s murder (which is not spoiler information) is shown in a flashback about halfway through the movie. Until then, viewers are left to wonder who Statham’s character really is when he shows up at the headquarters of Fortico Security to apply for a job working as a guard in an armored truck. When he applies for the job, he identifies himself has Patrick Hill, a divorcé with more than 25 years of security experience. Later, viewers find out that it’s an alias; his real last name is Mason.

But he was able to create an entire false identity as Patrick Hill, with documents provided by his trusty assistant Kirsty (played by Lyne Renée), one of the few women with a speaking role in this movie. The false identity includes phony job references and a fake job stint at the now-defunct Orange Delta Security, which was a well-known company. Based on this elaborate scheme, Patrick is easily able to get a job at Fortico.

Fortico is described in the movie as one of the top armored vehicle companies that does cash pickups and deliveries in the area. The company’s clients include retail department stores, marijuana dispensaries, cash vaults, casinos and private banks. On a typical pickup or delivery, there are two or three employees in the truck: a driver, a guard and/or a messenger. The company isn’t huge (it only has 12 trucks), but it’s very profitable. A Fortico truck haul can total around $15 million a day, sometimes more.

Patrick is trained by Hayden Blair (played by Holt McCallany), who goes by the nickname Bullet. Almost everyone Bullet works with directly seems to have a nickname, so he immediately gives Patrick the nickname H, an abbreviation of Hill. Patrick/H goes through the training process (including gun defense skills) and he barely gets passing grades. He’s assigned to work with a cocky driver named David Hancock (played by Josh Hartnett), whose nickname is Boy Sweat Dave. Another colleague is Robert Martin (played by Rocci Williams), whose nickname is Hollow Bob.

When Bullet introduces H to these two co-workers, Bullet says, “He’s H, like the bomb. Or Jesus H.” The bad dialogue doesn’t get any better. H is told that he’s replacing a co-worker named Sticky John (who came up with these cringeworthy nicknames?), who died during a heist that killed multiple employees. The robbers got away, so the Fortico employees on are on edge about this shooting spree, which they call the Gonzo Murders. Boy Sweat Dave says, “We ain’t the predators. We’re the prey.”

The insipid dialogue continues throughout the entire movie. In a scene with some Fortico workers off-duty in a bar, Boy Sweat Dave is playing pool with Dana Curtis (played by Niamh Algar), the token female on Fortico’s armored truck crew. Dana says sarcastically to Boy Sweat Dave: “The point of the game is to get the ball in the hole.” Boy Sweat Dave snaps back, “The point of a woman is to shut the fuck up, Dana.”

Dana replies, “Well, that Ivy League education is really working for you, Boy Sweat.” (How can you say a line like that with a straight face?) Boy Sweat Dave retorts, “Pretty soon, you’ll all be working for me. The power is in this big head here.” Dana snipes back, “Well, it’s definitely not in your little head. Or are you still blaming the beer?”

The character of Boy Sweat Dave is an example of how “Wrath of Man” wastes a potentially interesting character on silly dialogue. What kind of person with an Ivy League education wants to work as an armored truck driver, a job which doesn’t even require a high school education? Viewers never find out because Boy Sweat Dave is one of several characters in the movie who are shallowly introduced, just so there can be more people in the body count later.

And because Dana is H’s only female co-worker, this movie that treats women as tokens can’t let her be just a co-worker. No, she has to serve the purpose of fulfilling H’s sexual needs too, since he and Dana have a predictable fling/one night stand. He finds out something about her when he spends the night at her place that helps him unravel the mystery of who killed his son.

It isn’t long before Patrick/H experiences his first heist as a Fortico employee. He’s partnered with Boy Sweat Dave, who’s driving, while H is the lookout. The heist is unrealistically staged in the movie as one of those battles where one man (in this case, H) can take down several other men in a shootout where a Fortico employee has been taken hostage by the thieves. Post Malone fans (or haters) might get a kick out of the scene though, since he plays one of the nameless robbers who doesn’t last long in this movie. H has saved his co-workers’ lives in this botched heist, so he’s hailed as a hero by the company.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been looking for Patrick because he’s been an elusive crime boss. There are three FBI agents, all very uninteresting, who are on this manhunt: Agent Hubbard (played by Josh Cowdery), Agent Okey (played by Jason Wong) and their supervisor Agent King (played by Andy Garcia). Hubbard and Okey come in contact with Patrick/H, when they investigate the botched robbery where Patrick/H ended up as the hero.

Agent King orders Hibbard and Okey not to let on that they know H’s real identity and to keep tabs on why this crime boss is working at an armored truck company. Eddie Marsan, a very talented actor, has a very useless role in “Wrath of Man,” as an office assistant named Terry. Terry becomes suspicious of who H really is, because in his heroic rescue, H showed the type of expert combat skills that contradicts the mediocrity that he displayed in the company’s training.

And just who’s in this group of murderous thieves? They’re led by mastermind Jackson (played by Jeffrey Donovan), a married man with two kids who lives a double life. This seemingly mild-mannered family man works in a shopping mall. But he also apparently has time to lead a group of armored truck thieves, who pose as street construction workers when they commit their robberies. The robbers use a concrete mixer truck to block the armored truck and then ambush the people inside the armored truck.

What’s really dumb about “Wrath of Man” is that these armed robbers use the same tactic every time. In real life, repeating this very cumbersome way of committing an armed robbery would make them easier to catch, not harder. Apparently, these dimwits think that the best way to not call attention to yourself during a robbery is to haul out a giant concrete mixer truck.

Jackson’s crew consists of a bunch of mostly generic meatheads: Brad (played by Deobia Oparei), Sam (played by Raúl Castillo), Tom (played by Chris Reilly) and Carlos (played by Laz Alonzo), with Jan (played by Scott Eastwood) as the loose cannon in the group. Guess who pulled the trigger on Patrick/H/Mason’s son Dougie? Guess who’s going to have a big showdown at the end of the movie?

Of course, a crime boss has to have his own set of goons. Patrick/H/Mason has three thugs who are closest to him and who do a lot of his dirty work: Mike (played by Darrell D’Silva), Brendan (played by Cameron Jack) and Moggy (played by Babs Olusanmokun). There’s a vile part of the movie that shows Patrick/H/Mason ordering his henchman to beat up and torture anyone who might have information on who murdered Dougie. The operative word here is “might,” because some people who had nothing to do with the murder are brutally assaulted.

Mike has a conscience and he says that he won’t commit these vicious attacks anymore to try to find Dougie’s killer. Mike advises Patrick/H/Mason to think of another way to find the murderer. And that’s when Patrick/H/Mason got the idea to go “undercover” at Fortico, with the hope that he could catch the murderous thieves in their next heist on a Fortico truck.

And what do you know, this gang of thieves will be doing “one last heist” on a Fortico truck, to get a haul that’s said to be at least $150 million. What could possibly go wrong? You know, of course.

Ritchie’s previous film “The Gentlemen” (which was also about gangsters and theives) had a lot of devilishly clever dialogue and crackled with the type of robust energy that hasn’t been seen in his movies in years. And although “The Gentlemen” wasn’t a perfect film about criminal antics, it at least made the effort to have memorable characters and to keep viewers guessing about which character was going to come out on top. “Wrath of Man” is a completely lazy film that has no interesting characters, no suspense, and not even any eye-popping stunts. It’s just a silly shoot ’em up flick that’s as empty as Statham’s dead-eyed stares.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Pictures and Miramax Films will release “Wrath of Man” in U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2021.

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