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Review: Don’t Breathe 2 Ups the Ante on the Violence and Goes to Many Unexpected Places

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Don't Breathe
Stephen Lang in Don’t Breathe 2

In 2016, filmmaker Fede Alvarez introduced a new twist on the home invasion thriller with Don’t Breathe, which had three young criminals, played by Jane Levy, Dylan Minette, and Daniel Zovatto, making the mistake of breaking into the home of what they thought was a defenseless old, blind man. In actuality, the homeowner is a former Navy Seal, played by Stephen Lang, who really doesn’t care for visitors.

Don’t Breathe did quite well when released five years ago, as it was original horror that was wildly disturbing. For its sequel, Alvarez has moved over to produce, allowing his co-writer and long-time collaborator Rodo Sayagues to step in as a director. Few will notice the change in direction, because the storytelling, tone and look of the sequel is equally on par with the first movie. 

Stephen Lang is back as that never-named Navy Seal, now living in a new home with his young daughter Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), who he’s training to survive in the world, although he won’t actually let her go out on her own for very long. He may be overly protective, but he’s then forced to step up that protection when a group of criminals invade their home. Unlike those kids in the first movie, these are highly skilled and deadly military men who are there for their own unknown reasons.

It’s a pretty simple concept, really, one that feels somewhat timely due to the way the world has changed since the pandemic began. In fact, Don’t Breathe 2 was made entirely during the pandemic, but few will realize or notice that either if not told. As before, there’s a lot of grey area in between what Lang’s character does vs. the antagonists in the piece, mainly because at first, we’re unaware why they’re breaking into his home and trying to take Phoenix. (You can expect the worst, though, and probably for good reasons.)

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Lang’s “Blind Man” comes across as far more sympathetic in the sequel, but he’s sympathetic in a similar way as the Frankenstein monster in that he’s scary and dangerous, but you also feel somewhat bad for him, because he’s just worried and being protective of his daughter. It might seem strange to some to see Lang’s antagonist from the first movie switching to a more heroic role for the sequel, but Lang shows that he really can pull off anything when put to the task. Even more than that, the movie’s a great showcase for young Madelyn Grace, who could easily carry a movie from her own point-of-view, creating quite a stark contrast to Lang. However, you feel about his turn, you are always rooting for Phoenix.

Obviously, I don’t want to get too far into potential plot spoilers, but you definitely should expect the unexpected this time around, as it becomes a very different movie from Don’t Breathe, especially during its second half where things get shaken up, as it moves location and the gray areas between good and bad get even grayer.

Returning from the first movie is Cinematographer Pedro Luque, whose camera and lighting are given many new dark corners and crevices in which to explore. In one of the cooler moments in the film, the home invaders are searching for Phoenix in the house, but she is able to evade them as Luque uses a similarly impressive done-in-one shot style as his early film, The Silent House.

With a new production designer in David Warren (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Sayagues still has a lot of room to explore a number of vast new spaces that are just as dark and claustrophobic as the house in the first movie, giving the viewers many chances to be on edge.

Don't Breathe

As with the original Don’t Breathe, sound is absolutely key to creating the tension and punctuating the fight sequences, and it’s what helps adds to the film’s cinematic qualities as a thriller. The fact is that the movie looks good AND sounds great with all the sound effects craftily integrated into the score by another returnee, Composer Roque Baño.

Because Lang’s character has far more worthy adversaries this time around, the work of Stunt Coordinators Ele Bardha and Béla Unger and their stunt team are far more crucial. This leads up to a far more violent and gory film under the aegis of Sayagues, which some might appreciate more than others.

Don’t Breathe 2 might not be reinventing the wheel of the first movie, but it does create a bigger world around Lang’s anti-hero that affords the sequel to be a far more cinematic experience in some ways. But it’s also darker and much more violent, so it might take a special kind of bloodlust to fully enjoy every moment of the movie.

Don’t Breathe 2 opens exclusively in movie theaters on Friday, August 13, with previews on Thursday night.

All photos courtesy Sony/Screen Gems.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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