The controversy leading up to Don’t Breathe 2 speaks for itself. From the moment the first footage dropped, fans of the first film and Horror seekers, in general, were left shocked by the simple yet deadly premise of putting the villainous Blind Man in the driver’s seat, trying to take care of a little girl à la Lone Wolf and Cub no less. The online reactions have been valid no doubt, and those who have already decided to skip this out for obvious reasons are justifiable in that as well, but for those curious enough to give Don’t Breathe 2 a try, get ready for one of the most unpredictable rides of the year.
Creative duo Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues return to give even the most dedicated Horror fans a run for their money. The two have been working together for years, having written the Sam Raimi approved Evil Dead reimagining in 2013 and the first Don’t Breathe, though Álvarez has notably always been the one in the director’s chair. These Uruguyan filmmakers have already been taking the modern Horror scene by storm, having just released AppleTV’s Calls this year and with a new Texas Chainsaw still on the way. And while Don’t Breathe 2 arrives 5 years after the original, it’s a clear indicator that these dudes haven’t lost their touch on creating a true visceral experience.
In all honesty, this sequel is a lot to unpack. It’s more complex than what the promotion may hint at and is sure to, believe it or not, also surprise some of the naysayers. Much of this credit goes to Rodo Sayagues, who makes his directorial debut with Fede Álvarez this time stepping back to more producing and writing duties. Particularly with Horror, many sequels either lose a tad bit of their original flavor or just straight up nosedive in quality when a different filmmaker takes the wheel. Álvarez and Sayagues boast a tight partnership, helping this continuation carry over many of the first’s unique atmosphere and tone. Although, it takes Sayagues a moment to really settle in. After a merely decent first act, fans of the original will soon be pleased as sh*t takes a turn for the insane fairly quickly.
To no surprise, less than half of the actual plot has been given away. Years have passed and the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) has restarted his life with his pseudo-daughter Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), who is actually tied to the narrative of the first film. The Blind Man has done his best to hide her troublesome origins by raising her with the utmost expectations for survival. Naturally, Phoenix has taken a little from him and has grown unhinged in her own right, despite keeping some of her youthful innocence. But the past eventually catches up to them both when mysterious goons try to steal, or “save”, her from the Blind Man’s demented grasp. The only thing is, this group of self-proclaimed heroes may also be hiding a few secrets of their own.
When compared to this duo’s past work, Don’t Breathe 2 may actually be their most f*cked up film to date, which is really saying something. Yes, there are some gnarly moments of violence and gore – the kind powerful enough to get a loud reaction from a packed theater – but this story is more conceptually darker than anything. It’s one of those films where things just keep getting worse, to the point where one can’t look away. It’s not a blood fest where people will find it easy to just walk out, but a tale so twisted that even those who aren’t having a good time will go, “Alright, I definitely need to see how this could possibly end because what the hell?!”
One of the film’s only but most damning downfalls, of course, comes back to what many were criticizing it for to begin with: heroizing the Blind Man. It may not be as forced or uncanny as what’s been teased in the trailers, but the narrative arguably still goes too easy on the unforgivable character. The filmmakers dance a very fine moral line, as the real driving force of the story is arguably Phoenix, which actually makes for an interesting take. By the midpoint, it becomes very clear as to why this movie could exist with its own purpose. But as the credits start to roll, that becomes more blurred due to the Blind Man eventually getting “badass” moments of almost saving the day. It’s not as black and white seeing as this story is just really f*cked up all around, but certain integral moments come off as questionable at best.
One can at least appreciate Álvarez and Sayagues sticking to their guns through and through. They went for the least safe route with a sequel, and even if it all doesn’t land, that’s still admirable within modern Horror. This isn’t to totally let them off the hook, but one can definitely see the seeds of a bold approach as opposed to actively trying to be offensive for the sake of turning heads. Funny enough, if there’s anything to compare this film to, it would be the work of Rob Zombie, who himself is controversial in Horror. Don’t Breathe 2 reaches the same pitch-black levels of thematic darkness, but unlike some of Zombie’s notorious films, it doesn’t feel like it’s in a race to get more crude scene by scene. For this reason and its level of high concept violence, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this sequel gain its own cult following, just like its predecessor did.
Despite its one pivotal downfall, no one really knows how to deliver levels of “What the f*ck” like Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues. The two come from a genuine place with their storytelling, but perhaps get too easily misguided in a few key areas. The idea behind making the Blind Man this Jason Vorhees-esque force of nature, with the audience constantly looking forward to the new ways he can brutally take someone out, isn’t that taboo, as that’s what has literally happened to every murderous Horror icon. However, the narrative at hand is slightly more grounded in reality, and dancing the moral line becomes a lot more dangerous when including topics like physical abuse. The film’s unpredictable nature makes some of its rougher aspects easier to swallow, and regardless of its debatable landing, there still won’t be anything like Don’t Breathe 2 by the year’s end.