When most people think of horror sequels, their minds usually jump to long-running slasher franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. These and other similar series just churned out movie after movie with no apparent regard for quality, and they gave horror sequels a bad name. But if you know the genre well, you know there are actually quite a few horror follow-ups that break this stereotypical mold. In fact, you don’t even need to look past 2021 to find some. A Quiet Place Part II was great, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It was pretty good, and now we can add another enjoyable sequel to that list: Don’t Breathe 2.
Directed by Rodo Sayagues and starring Stephen Lang, Madelyn Grace, and Brendan Sexton III, Don’t Breathe 2 reconnects us with Norman Nordstrom, aka the Blind Man, eight years after the events of the original film. He now has a daughter named Phoenix, and he includes survival skills as part of her homeschool curriculum. He’s a tough parent, but he just wants his daughter to be safe.
However, one day, Norman’s worst fear comes true. A new group of home invaders come to his house, but this time they’re not looking for money. Instead, they’ve come for Phoenix, and the Nordstroms have to do everything they can to keep the girl safe from this mysterious gang of kidnappers.
Much like the first film, Don’t Breathe 2 is all about tension and suspense, and for most of its runtime, it had me on the absolute edge of my seat. When these invaders arrive at Norman and Phoenix’s house, the tension immediately skyrockets to eleven, and it stays that way for a pretty long time.
Just about every step these people take is fraught with danger and uncertainty, so you can’t take your eyes off the screen as you anxiously wait to find out how they’ll fare in the Blind Man’s den of horrors. The suspense grows exponentially with every second that passes, so you’ll find that the title describes your own experience just as much as the experience of the characters in the movie.
Then, when Norman strikes and breaks the tension, he does not disappoint. His fights with the invaders are all really cool, and when he goes for the kill, he’s pretty brutal. He takes out way more anger and rage on these victims than he did back in his 2016 debut, and some of his tactics even had me squirming in my seat.
But Don’t Breathe 2 isn’t just about the Blind Man being a monster. If that were the case, it would just be a rehash of the original, so the filmmakers wisely added some new wrinkles to the story to keep it fresh. For example, when the invaders enter the Nordstrom house, there are actually two cat-and-mouse games going on. Not only is Norman hunting them, but they’re also hunting Phoenix, and her scenes are arguably the best parts of the movie.
They’re just as tense as the rest of the film, but they also add a unique dimension that we didn’t get in the first movie. Norman has trained his daughter well, so she’s able to evade her would-be kidnappers in some really clever ways. She uses her knowledge of the house to stay out of reach just like Norman uses his knowledge of it to hunt these people down, so it’s a cool inversion of what we’ve come to expect from the franchise.
Throughout the majority of this action, Don’t Breathe 2 does a pretty good job of keeping everything grounded in reality. While there are a few times when the Blind Man seems a bit more capable than he should be, the first two-thirds of the film are largely believable. I’m sure you could go through it with a fine-toothed comb and find a lot to nitpick, but on my first watch, I didn’t find myself having to suspend disbelief much more than I did with the first movie.
However, that all changed in the third act. For about the last twenty or thirty minutes, Norman seems to become almost supernatural. He does way too many things that a blind man just can’t do no matter how skilled he may be, and these extraordinary feats took me out of the story quite a bit. The action was still pretty cool, but the lack of believability kept me from enjoying it anywhere near as much as I should’ve.
On top of that, Don’t Breathe 2 has one more big flaw that we need to talk about: its characters. Phoenix is great, and Madelyn Grace plays the part brilliantly, but I had issues with just about everybody else. It’s not that the characters are bad in themselves. Far from it. They’re great, and the actors all do a really good job. My problem is that aside from Phoenix, we don’t really have anybody to root for.
In particular, what I really don’t like is that both Norman and the invaders get you to sympathize with them at various points, but pretty soon afterward, they show their true colors and make you hate them all over again. Individually, their arcs work pretty well, but on the whole, this group of characters is just a bit too much of a downer, and I would’ve liked at least one more character that I could’ve truly rooted for.
But in the grand scheme of things, those two problems are outweighed by everything Don’t Breathe 2 does right. The Blind Man is just as good as we remember from the original film, Phoenix is a really welcome addition to the franchise, and the horror in the first two acts is everything we were hoping it would be. Sure, the movie ends on a bit of a low note, but that doesn’t negate all the great stuff that led up to it.
So if you were a fan of the first film, I think you’re going to mostly enjoy this one. Its flaws keep it from being quite as good as the 2016 classic, but if you like tense suspense thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seat and showcase some genuine brutality, you’re going to like this movie.
Don’t Breathe 2 is out in theaters right now.