Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 38 minutes, Director – Rodo Sayagues
Blind former Navy SEAL Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) finds himself having to prevent his adopted daughter, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) from being kidnapped from a gang of home invaders.
There are plenty of horror franchises and sequels that take a shift to focus on the villain of the previous film/s. While there may eventually have been a more comedic edge we still knew that what the new protagonist was doing was wrong. Now, in the case of Don’t Breathe 2, the actions of former Navy SEAL Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) are seemingly forgotten about, left behind for the audience to hopefully not throw back to either, as he attempts to redeem himself by protecting his adopted daughter of eight years, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace). The pair are under threat when a group of home invaders attempt to kidnap Phoenix, who has lived most of her life in relative isolation, under the protection and survival training of the blind man she believes to be her real father.
“It’s not me you need to be afraid of” claims one of the gang “but the man standing next to you”. Throughout we see Lang’s character’s previous combat experience put to further effect in true gory style. There’s a bump from the 15 rating of the previous film to an 18 here, and its understandable why due to some of the more detailed bloodshed depicted on screen. All while you ask yourself at various intervals whether the film wants you to sympathise with its protagonist or not – it’s certainly difficult to knowing what happened 2016’s original surprise hit. When not pondering this question, focusing more on the action, there’s a fair deal of thrills to be found.
Director Rodo Sayagues, who co-writes the film with returning partner and first film director Fede Álvarez, makes the most of almost one location for a large period of time. The majority of the film is set in Norman and Phoenix’s home, as they use the various different floors to escape, rapidly plan and sometimes attack the trespassers, who it’s unknown why they truly want Phoenix. With all the gunshots and shattered windows it’s certainly convenient that the house doesn’t have any neighbours. While not all of the goings on create a true sense of tension there’s still an engaging nature to the selection of sequences as they play out, pushed further by the idea that they are all in one location. A location which never feels restrictive and still provides the characters, and the film, with enough places to move and hide so that hope for freedom is still glimpsed a within the sense of worry and entrapment that each figure feels.
As things progress and the plot continues its home invasion theme, although with increasing revenge details, it becomes clear that his is very much a different affair to the first film. More in terms of the supporting cast that grows overtime as more people are brought in to fight against the strength of the skilled man who poses such a threat to them. It’s clear that Grace’s character simply can’t catch a break. It’s with her that much of your sympathies lie, constantly caught in a spiral of threat and negativity. Wishing for freedom of some kind, only being met with things being shattered, falling down around her. The horror tones are felt throughout, particularly within the levels of bloodshed and body horror that line plenty of the fight and action sequences. Yet, as the narrative progresses a thriller sensibility is brought further into play, and for Phoenix as she discovers more about herself there’s an occasional slight dramatic beat that manages to land a similarly slight effect on the viewer.
By leaning further into Phoenix’s side of things there’s a chance for the film to form a better connection with the viewer, or at least engage them a bit more within the events that are occurring on screen. You may not be able to feel the same for Lang’s character – despite providing plenty of good action moments and the efforts that he puts into saving his long-hidden adopted daughter – and that further makes the decision to gradually form him as a means to save and protect Phoenix, emphasising her bond with him more than the other way around, one with both its pros and cons. Nonetheless, while there may be some issues in terms of the film’s choice of protagonist, there’s still a decent enough – if not always tense – home invasion horror here. One that occasionally feels more in a traditional vein, yet not without its heavier inclusion of gore.
Amongst uncertainties to whether you should sympathise with Don’t Breathe 2’s core protagonist, there’s still an engaging and gory, if not always tense, home invasion horror in place.