Director: Rodo Sayagues
Cast: Stephen Lang, Brendan Sexton III, Madelyn Grace, Adam Young, Bobby Schofield
Runtime: 1 hrs 38 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Gore)
Released By: Sony Pictures Singapore
Opening Day: 11 November 2021
Synopsis: Blind veteran Norman Nordstrom has been hiding out for several years in an isolated cabin with a young girl. When a group of unseemly criminals kidnaps her, he's forced to tap into even darker and more creative instincts in an effort to save her.
As much as it owes its existence to its predecessor, ‘Don’t Breathe 2’ is probably better off if you remember as little of the 2016 original as you can.
Oh yes, it has been five years since the ruthless Fede Alvarez horror-thriller introduced us to Stephen Lang’s blind antagonist Norman Nordstrom; and while it is inevitable that a follow-up would centre on Norman, those who remember how the tragedy-ravaged Gulf War vet had kidnapped the woman responsible for the car accident which killed his daughter, tried to impregnant her using a turkey baster and locked her in his basement to gestate a child he feels he is owed, would probably flinch at how quickly we are meant to forgive these sins in order to embrace him as an anti-hero in this sequel.
Set at least eight years after the events of the earlier film, it finds Norman having started a new life with a young girl whom he had taken into his care after a fire ravaged the house she was in and presumably killed her family. Though he had trained her in both fighting and survival skills, Norman is still hesitant about letting her leave the house, and the early scenes show how the girl named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) resents how he coops her up at home, longing instead to move into the covenant shelter with the other kids she plays with on the rare occasions she is allowed into town.
It is on one of these occasions where she is spotted by Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), who would probably have kidnapped her right there and then if not for the presence of Norman’s fiercely loyal dog Shadow keeping watch over her. Raylan and his gang follow Phoenix back to Norman’s house, and decide to wait till night to launch a home invasion.
Like Alvarez, first-time director and co-writer Rodo Sayagues has a knack for nail-biting set-pieces. Among the highlights are one where Phoenix has to evade two of Raylan’s men who have broken into the house while Norman is out; another where Norman engages in a mano-a-mano against another one of Raylan’s men while racing against time to break Phoenix out of a container before she drowns; and yet another in Norman’s greenhouse where he fends off against Raylan and his gang with just a variety of gardening tools.
To Sayagues’ credit too, what follows doesn’t just end up as a retread of the original; instead, Sayagues spins off from the tight claustrophobia of the earlier film in surprising ways. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that a midway twist changes the dynamic not just between Phoenix and Raylan, but also between Phoenix and Norman, setting the stage for a blood-driven showdown in more ways than one. Even as it breaks out of its compact setting, Sayagues keeps the pace tight and tense, with the events unfolding almost in real time over the course of one ill-fated evening.
Whereas the original cleverly played around with our sympathies for Norman, the sequel leaves no doubt that Norman is an avenger, notwithstanding his brutal methods. For that reason, those who recall the sins of his past will probably find it more difficult to embrace him as the undisputed hero of this picture, even with second chances and what have you. To be sure, as Norman, Lang is still the heart, soul and muscle of the movie, turning in a performance of real feeling as a broken, anguished figure who is determined to play father figure to Phoenix in spite of his previous transgressions.
Still, even though the storytelling does go easy on Norman, it retains a hard edge thanks to a roster of damaged characters, distorted agendas and uncompromising violence. Indeed, for those who may be worried, ‘Don’t Breathe 2’ hasn’t gone soft throughout, and we should add that Norman ends up being worse for the wear physically than in the previous movie going up against men (read: not college students) who are just as harsh but fitter than him.
As long as you’re prepared to lean into Norman as saviour, this is as taut and thrilling a follow-up as the original deserves, and one that is every bit as nerve-wracking as the title implies.
(Every bit as taut and thrilling as the original, even if it does lose the ambiguity that made Stephen Lang's Blind Man a morally complex character, this sequel will have you holding your breath from start to end)
Review by Gabriel Chong