Why do sequels get made? The easy answer is so producers can make more money, but it could also be to further an interesting element of the original movie. That element can be an established universe that’s well-detailed enough for expansion, a plotline that can be developed later, or a particularly interesting character that leaves such an impact that an audience wants to see him or her again. The risk of sequels, however, is overexposing that treasured element from the original movie and making the follow-up dull. So you have to be very careful with your sequel in trying something new or expanding the presence of a lesser character. Most important of all, you have to remember to make that character (or any character) likable.
So what the hell is Don’t Breathe 2 doing here? A sequel to the surprise hit Don’t Breathe from 2016, that $10 million thriller co-written and directed by Fede Alvarez (2013’s Evil Dead) somehow made $157 million worldwide in the late summer thanks to its well-crafted tension, dashes of exploitation horror, and the ominous presence of Stephen Lang (Avatar) as the movie’s silent bad guy. Not only is Lang back for the sequel as Norman Nordstrom, he’s been promoted from antagonist to protagonist.
Years after his home was raided by three unsuspecting bandits, Norman has found another rundown home in rural Detroit to live in seclusion. He’s not alone, though. He now lives with an 11-year-old daughter named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), and he’s training her to become a resourceful survivalist just like him. Phoenix is also kept from the world, with Norman only letting her out to visit the charred remains of her old home that burned to the ground and killed her mother. One night, four scruffy thugs break into Norman’s home trying to kidnap Phoenix. As Norman tells Phoenix to hide while he disposes of the thugs, the leader (Brendan Sexton III) lets the little girl know the old man protecting her is hiding a secret about her past.
One tool in the arsenal of Don’t Breathe was a successful balance of craft and sleaze. There was a haunted wasteland look afforded to the run-down neighborhoods of Detroit, the creepy labyrinth of Norman’s home was well constructed, and the scares (whether they were gory or just shocking) were expertly timed. Sadly, Don’t Breathe 2 has tipped its scale far more into the sleazy category in nearly every aspect. It’s an ugly movie, both in content and in looks.
Not everything has to compete with the likes of Roger Deakins, but the cinematography from Pedro Luque (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) puts a constant layer of gray sludge in front of the audience with few clever lighting techniques or use of darkness for good jump scares. The latter element is certainly not helped by the score from Roque Baños (In the Heart of the Sea), which keeps interrupting scenes reminding people how dirty and grimy the movie’s attitude is. Even the sound mixing overcompensates the movie’s lack of quality, blaring over Norman’s hoarse voice scraping through dialogue.
Perhaps that’s a distraction from the lame story and the underwhelming execution from co-writer and director Rodo Sayagues, who co-wrote the first movie with Alvarez (who only serves as a producer here). Not only does Sayagues rehash the story structure from the first movie (setup, home invasion, revelation, and then showdown), but he doubles down on making the sequel more tasteless than the first. He dangles the safety of a dog against gunfire in front of the audience twice on top of putting a small child in tasteless circumstances (especially in the third act revelation).
Sure, there was a shocking plot twist in the original’s third act, but its questionable morals from that moment were protected by the movie’s quality up to that point. Don’t Breathe 2 is not nearly as tense as its predecessor and its ultraviolence isn’t even that much fun. Worse yet, nothing in the sequel redeems Norman’s actions from the first movie. Hell, despite the revelations about Phoenix’s past and the movie framing it like Norman “saved” her, it doesn’t change the fact that he kidnapped a child. Lang still has a stone-cold badassery to his presence while making you feel the damage he takes, but his aged howl can’t cover his character’s past.
Some sequels can come from a place of genuine desire to continue a story or expand a universe. Don’t Breathe 2 is not that kind of sequel. It feels more like Sony knew this could be made on the cheap and it’d get some kind of money back, even if it’s not a smash like its predecessor. It’s exploitative without being fun, grim for the sake of being grim, and it can’t warrant its own existence. The trailer for this movie likely surprised some people considering there’s been little discussion of Don’t Breathe in the last couple of years. So on the brightside, maybe Don’t Breathe 2 serves a purpose of reminding people that the first Don’t Breathe still exists and is actually quite good.
Don’t Breathe 2 is now playing in theaters. Watch the official trailer here.