Directed By Rodo Sayagues
Starring – Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III, Madelyn Grace
The Plot – Hiding out for years in an isolated cabin, Norman Nordstrom (Lang) has taken in and raised a young girl (Grace) orphaned from a house fire. Their quiet existence is shattered when a group of kidnappers show up and take the girl, forcing Norman to leave his safe haven to save her.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, gruesome images, and adult language
– Humbling sound. Similar to “A Quiet Place”, “Don’t Breathe 2” equally weaponizes sound in a way that is advantageous to the predator of the hunt, in order to even the overwhelming playing field. In this respect, we are treated to a magnifying emphasis on every audible influence, like floor boards creaking, or the conveying of heft on certain bigger antagonists who move as quietly as possible throughout the room, but can’t escape the immersive quality that comes from the sensitivity of its boom mic’s. This element of production not only puts us in the shoes of its protagonist, for how we hang onto every clue in order to flesh out proximity within the claustrophobia of the room, but also pushes anxiety in the context of the sequence, as we wait entranced for the inevitable moment when it all goes south.
– Carnage candy. As is the case with most horror sequels, Sayagues enhances the self-indulgence in creativity with his kills that will undoubtedly send horror hounds home happy with the level of red that flashes across the screen repeatedly throughout the film. As to where the first film was more restrained with its minimal usage and depiction of gore throughout, the abundance of such here vividly paints a doubling of the ante that shines through on the personal aspect that materializes in the movie’s conflict, giving us visual expressions that speaks volumes about each of their characterizations. It pushes the envelope as hard as possible for the desired R-rating, and offers an unapologetic glee at the kind of exploitation of material that a majority of mainstream horror flicks often balk at, in order to cater to a teenage audience.
– Two for the money. While the antagonists are a completely different breed, which I will eventually get to in my critiques, the work of Lang and 14-year-old first time cinematic actress Madelyn Grace provided a nourishing dynamic that solidified the importance of each for entirely different reasons. For Lang it’s simple; one more delve into a dangerously devious madman whose vulnerability in blindness is often used advantageously against his opposition. As the protagonist of sorts for this installment, Lang is able to supplant a range of emotions and overwhelming loneliness to the character that shines through on the things he values most important, all the while maintaining the ruthlessness in ferocity that would make him a shoe-in for the aged Michael Myers seen in contemporary Halloween flicks. For Grace, it’s the innocence and heart in a character who is morally unlike anyone from these two films in the franchise, serving as a breath of fresh air to the optimism against these horrible people in this horrible setting. Some of her line reads definitely embody a first timer, but I feel it’s the material itself that often keeps her talents limited, forcing Madelyn to adapt with the punches and physicality that child actors aren’t often privy to in horror films.
– Exhilarating half. For about the first fifty minutes of this film, I truly enjoyed the movements of the story, which kept me thoroughly engaged throughout some near perfect pacing. This unfortunately changed as the film persisted into its convoluted second half, but the initial engagements of story beats and physicality during these sequences illustrated a capability for Sayagues, who while not as effective in triggering urgency or anxiety during a sequence as Fede Alvarez, does at least instill the right ingredients to keep audiences energized between set pieces. Aside from this, it’s during this arc where the script itself doesn’t trip over its own feet for telling a bigger picture, instead remaining committed to the brutality that not only puts the butts in the seats, but the kind that was advertised aggressively throughout the movie’s various marketing. If it kept the consistency of what was present during these moments, the film would’ve kept a tighter grip on an acceptable sequel that, while not as exceptional as its first installment, would’ve been a more than suitable successor to it. Unfortunately….
– Devastating twist. For the record, I didn’t hate the first of two twists during the climax of the second act. In fact, I wholeheartedly expected it, considering the trailers for the film hint at the villains coming after the little girl, and not Stephen Lang’s blind old man. This twist makes matters personal when it mattered most. Unfortunately, the second twist that happens fifteen minutes later is tragically contradicting to the integrity of the film for a lot of reasons. The first, is its lunacy in jumping the shark from this once intimately satisfying story to a narrative that brings in medicine and science to matters that were truly unnecessary to these characters. Finally, it halts the previously solid pacing abruptly in a way that supplants a twenty minute speed bump of spoon-fed exposition for the audience, in a way that tries to level the moral playing field, but really just solidifies each of the characters, minus Grace, as irrefutable garbage straight out of a Rob Zombie movie.
– Bumbling antagonists. Speaking of detestable characters, the work from the previously believable Brendan Sexton III during AMC’s “The Killing” is followed up with one of the more over-the-top and laughably bad portrayals of a villain here. Part of the problem is the underwhelming backstory for the character that does him no favors in any kind of appealing or redeemable light, but the main cancer is in the enveloping for the character, which feels like he isn’t even a part of the world established during the two films in this franchise. His dialogue is laughably non-threatening, his demeanor comes across as constantly scared during sequences when the overwhelming odds were constantly in his favor, and when grouped with the rest of his villain ensemble, present the biggest group of incompetent idiots put to cinema in quite sometime, who couldn’t overcome a barrage of stupid decisions that served as the outs to Lang’s constant survival.
– Strange direction. When I saw the trailer for “Don’t Breathe 2”, I became confused at not only the lack of connection with the first film, but also in the structure of making Lang, the antagonist from the previous film, the protagonist in this film. This is certainly nothing new to horror or any kind of other genre of cinema, but why it doesn’t work here is because the material itself doesn’t paint this guy as the hero that the movie wants him so terribly to be. It very much contradicts him constantly by implanting the reminder in our heads that he’s killed, he’s raped, and he’s kidnapped to the detriment of his character, and given 92 minutes in a sequel for all of his honorable efforts. Aside from those problems, it wipes away any semblance of mystique for the character that made him all the more compelling during the first film, shedding too bright of a light on the movements and methods in a way that telegraphs each of them in predictably bland methods that saddle him with humanity and vulnerability, two ingredients the audience would prefer stay away from their unstoppable protagonists or antagonists.
– Technical issues. Aside from the top notch audible capacities, which I previously praised, the presentation for the film is as amateur an unfulfilling as you can possibly imagine. This is as a result of claustrophobic cinematography during fight sequences that are steered a bit too close to capably detect what’s taking shape, but aside from that it’s also in the shotgun editing, with its own abundance of continuity errors in visual storytelling. This sometimes involves characters shifting from one side of the room to the other in one cut, other times it abruptly orchestrates a stabbing or shooting too quickly in a way that refuses to build anticipation for the satisfaction of a pay-off. It makes for one of the more clumsy and incapable methods of presentation fresh off of the heels of an original installment that balanced claustrophobia and choreography accordingly without sacrificing the integrity of the sequence. It proves the biggest leap of absence between Alvarez to Sayagues, and often makes “Don’t Breathe 2” feel like the cheap stepchild to a film that is among the best horror movies of its decade.
– Lazy/stupid writing. There were several instances throughout the film where not only was I scratching my head at what the screenwriters nominated as acceptable feats to transition to the next scene, but also times when I was legitimately laughing during sequences when it was unintentional. Such an example is during a scene where Lang superglues the lips of one of the burglars shut, to which his partner takes a screwdriver and punches a hole through his cheek, instead of trying to pry his lips open. This wouldn’t be a big deal if in the very next cut, we see the superglued guy cut through the glue on his lips with a piece of glass laying in the devastation. Aside from this, another scene involving electrocution in a box filling with water aims for the encased character to try to empty the water instead of pushing out the dangling wire that would strike the fuse once it touches the building water. Stupidity like this, as well as the convenience of the little girl moving freely and quietly among burglars who are literally two feet in front of her stands as an intruding suspension of disbelief that was a bit too over the limit for my taste on the boundaries of believability, and that’s saying a lot in a movie where a blind man singlehandedly runs through an army of armed intruders.
My Grade: 4/10 or D-