In 2016, Fede Alvarez, the writer and director behind the gnarly "Evil Dead" remake, crept into the end of summer and made a lasting impact with his sleeper hit "Don't Breathe," a subversive home invasion flick that pinned a trio of robbers in a fight against an old, blind vet that they were trying to rob.
It was a novel concept on its own, but the wind up tension and big swing twists that would unfold over the course of the film would see that idea pushed to its furthest potential in what many would consider Alvarez’s best work to date.
Unfortunately, the same praises cannot be said for this lackluster sequel.
The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) returns a number of years after the events of the first film, raising his new 11-year-old daughter, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace). Her mother perished eight years back in a house fire and her new father only had time to rescue her...at least that's what he tells her.
It isn’t long before the sins of the past catch up to the Blind Man and he finds his home descended upon by a malicious group.
As the intruders break in, director Rodo Sayagues follows Phoenix close as she evades her captors in a tense game of hide-and-seek, the camera swiveling and twisting from each floor in a single, unbroken take. It’s one of the few minutes that really holds up in terms of matching the first film’s intensity.
In an ambitious move, the narrative attempts to spin the once lead villain into a redemptive hero, but it can’t find ways to surprise with the impact of its predecessor, and the Blind Man never truly feels like a character deserving of such an arc.
Where the first film tested your perception of the film’s characters, becoming more nerve wracking with each reveal, “Don’t Breathe 2” struggles to convince you that either side is worth caring about. Lang gives a compelling performance as the Blind Man, attempting to bring his emotional core to the forefront, but it feels too demanding a request to ask the audience to root for a character so morally twisted.
Phoenix, the film’s biggest opportunity to pull its emotional weight, feels wasted in a storyline so obviously plotted to pander to the Blind Man, making her inevitable connection to him as unearned as the audiences’ sympathy.
Even worse, the antagonists this time around wrestle to simply stay memorable, and their true plans unfold in such an over-the-top manner that they can't help but veer from sinister to silly.
Ultimately, “Don’t Breathe 2” attempts to force a hero’s journey onto a character that never felt built to handle it. Lang feels abandoned by the writers who failed to recognize the true destiny of their once complicated villain, and as the desperation of their efforts becomes too obvious to ignore, it’s hard to not feel bored by the stripped down version of a much more compelling villain.