Don’t Breathe 2 Review: The Blind Man Returns In Brutal, Unpredictable Sequel
‘The Blind Man’ is back in Don’t Breathe 2, a commendably nasty, mainstream horror sequel bound for controversy.
Fede Álvarez, the director behind the unholy, torrential-viscera Evil Dead remake, had one of 2016’s best hits with Don’t Breathe, a rare example these days of going out on a limb with a daring concept and securing that treasured word-of-mouth.
Ace sound design, gnarly violence, Stephen Lang’s shuddering, lung-clinching performance and, yes, that disgusting twist, its enduring popularity ensured we’d eventually see a second chapter of Norman Nordstrom’s story. The follow-up ticks many boxes for fans of the original, but debate will rage about where its moral compass points.
We open on a house ablaze in a run-down Detroit, with a young girl collapsing on the road – tonally, it’s not unlike the first’s chilling intro. With a time jump to eight years later, we find Norman teaching his ‘daughter’ survival skills in a Rey-esque training course. He’s wary of letting her out the house too much, and she yearns for a normal childhood life of friends, playing and learning, but their lives seem relatively peaceful.
Shock: they soon face off against a home invasion that reveals more about the ‘Blind Man’, the young girl and the intruders themselves.
Álvarez is back on the script, but the directing reigns have been handed over to Rodo Sayagues. He does a dutiful job of emulating his predecessor’s capacity for shocking violence – always with the damn arms! – while bringing his own flair, with one gory set-piece reminiscent of Macbeth’s amber mists and another boasting a pulse-pounding, showy one-take.
Norman has definitely racked up some XP since last time, though; he manages to hone in on the exact position of four men using the gentle ripple of water, not to mention even more ferocious fighting chops. Lang is phenomenal though, bringing brute physicality and amazingly, even now, managing to draw empathy for his sins.
The film has a grimmer undercurrent than I expected, with random story threads like organ harvesting, meth lab fires and a particularly cheap moment I daren’t spoil. The original was effective because it was taut, lean and mean, unconcerned with the world outside the home unless it was an escape. It’d be silly to suggest the sequel shouldn’t have chased a more ambitious narrative, but it often feels more like meandering than exploring.
Watching a character who inseminated a woman against her will with a turkey baster in a hero role – Álvarez described him as an ‘anti-villain’ – is a somewhat tough pill to swallow. The film does acknowledge Norman’s past, and doesn’t entirely ask the audience to root for him… until it all goes a bit John Wick-y, and its position becomes clearer. Expect this to be a major discussion when it hits cinema crowds around the world.
I may not have felt comfortable with every turn, but horror – and art, generally – shouldn’t conform just because it’ll make people feel better. That’s simply not the point; it should intrigue us, provoke us, even anger us. Make no mistake, there’ll no shortage of WTFs among audiences.
Don’t Breathe 2 may seem icky on paper, but its execution is brutal and quite radical. You could say, it’s got spunk.
Don’t Breathe 2 hits cinemas this Friday, August 13.
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