For all its flaws, one thing that can surely be said about Rodo Sayagues' Don't Breathe 2 is that it is not a lazy film. It is not one of those sequels hurriedly put together, scarcely deviating from the 'hit' format of the original. In this case Fede Alvarez's Don't Breathe (2016), which took the world by surprise with its seemingly minimalist plot and a surprisingly formidable antagonist in Stephen Lang's Norman Nordstrom, a blind man who can 'see.'
To its credit, the sequel takes chances. Not all of it pays off. However, Don't Breathe 2 knows its prized possession is Nordstrom's ruthless physicality, and it does a splendid job of cherishing it till the very end.
Don't Breathe 2 takes a bold step by flipping the status-quo of the original, by making us empathise with the devil. Nordstrom, who did some horrific things in the 2016 film, starts out as a father-figure (shorthand for positive) in this. He trains 11-year-old Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) with the help of his Rottweiler Shadow, and his own experience as a former Navy SEAL.
For what? That is a good question. Especially, given how Nordstrom himself was the danger in the first film. "Never take anything for granted. God will take it from you," he tells her when she slacks off in a drill. "Is God bad?" she asks him, to which he responds with "God is fair."
There is a tragedy in Nordstrom's voice, probably still grappling with his 'sins' in the first film. He seems to have built his entire world around this little girl's well-being, strictly monitoring her visits to town, home-schooling her, and putting her through rigorous training for the horrors that await both of them.
To the Don't Breathe universe's credit, it understands that a decaying suburb of Detroit, perhaps waiting to be 'made great again,' is the perfect setting for the modern American horror film. Full of disillusioned army veterans, who have come to realise they were fighting a dishonourable war, they are looking to either escape the horrors they witnessed by inflicting some horrors of their own on themselves or others. Or they are looking for redemption, which makes the air in the film that much more heavy with desperation. Don't Breathe 2 takes this brief and sprints with it, until it finally runs out of¦ breath.
The beauty of the first film is how straight-forward it looks on the surface, inviting the audience into a simple cat-and-mouse film. And then, director Fede Alvarez delivers some superbly disguised twists of his own. The second one, while preserving the blood-lust of the original, aspires to offer redemption to the old man, while also trying to be a character study for him.
It misses more than it hits, looking clunky and sentimental in front of the lithesome original film from 2016.
Stephen Lang is a knockout for his part as Norman Nordstrom, not only while imposing himself violently on the intruders, but also while humanising a character who found the creepiest use for a turkey baster in the first film. The character is 'cool' (even when he is evil), and Lang plays him smartly, not overplaying his hand to make anyone feel particularly too much for him. He injects Nordstrom with the right amount of pathos and rage, to inspire fear and sorrow from a distance.
Don't Breathe 2 does not soil our memories of the original film, and that is probably its biggest quality. However, that also does not necessarily make it an 'unmissable' film. It just means that better things await Stephen Lang (and Norman Nordstrom hopefully) in the near future.
Don't Breathe 2 is available in Indian cinemas.