'Don't Breathe 2' Review: A Sequel That Tries New Things, Unsuccessfully

That killer blind man is back – and this time, he's a hero!

Don't Breathe 2, the sequel to 2016's surprise hit Don't Breathe, is an oddity – a sequel that doesn't seem to grasp what made the first movie interesting. In the first film, some young thieves broke into the house of a blind man thinking they were in for an easy score. Unfortunately for them, the blind man, AKA Norman Nordstrom, was something of an unstoppable killing machine. He can't see, but all his other senses are heightened, and he uses them to brutally murder people. He may not have worn a mask, but he was a slasher for all intents and purposes – like Michael Myers in Halloween.

Now, here comes Don't Breathe 2, which is like watching a Halloween sequel where Michael Myers is no longer an unstoppable force of evil but instead a tragic figure looking for redemption.

If you've seen the first film – and I assume you have if you're curious about this sequel – you know how wrong-headed it is to turn this character heroic. Not only did he murder people, but he also abducted a woman and forcefully impregnated her. This plot point was treated as a big twist in the first film, and it was, for lack of a better phrase, pretty gross. It tripped up what was an otherwise lean, mean, well-crafted horror machine, courtesy of director Fede Álvarez.

For the sequel, Álvarez has handed directorial duties over to Rodo Sayagues, who never manages to match the intensity and shot composition that made Álvarez's entry so watchable. Sayagues and cinematographer Pedro Luque bathe everything in nearly impenetrable darkness, and when they're not doing that, they're filling the frame up with smoke. There are several different sequences where it's impossible to see anything, and I don't think it's because the filmmakers are trying to comment on the main character's blindness. There's a lot of bursts of action here, but almost all of them are shot in shaky close-ups.

But worse than that is the script, which comes from Álvarez and Sayagues. Exploring the inner workings of the blind man, played once again by Stephen Lang, isn't a bad idea – in theory. In fact, there's something novel about a slasher sequel that attempts to make its slasher the main character. The problem is that Don't Breathe 2 asks for too much sympathy for the devil. I'm all for moral grayness in movies – characters need not be drawn in simple black or white, good or bad terms. By all means, give me complicated characters! But the blind man isn't that complicated. Not really. And there's never a moment here where it feels like the film is holding him in any sort of contempt.

Eight years ago, a little girl stumbled out of a burning house and collapsed. Now, she's a little bit older, and she's living with Norman Nordstrom. She thinks he's her father, but of course, anyone who has seen the first movie knows that's not true. Norman is caring towards the girl, who he calls Phoenix (played by Madelyn Grace, who is quite good in the role). But he's also strict and overprotective. He trains her in survival tactics, homeschools her, and hesitates to let her leave the big, crumbling Addams Family-style house they live in.

Norman would rather block out the world, but he can't hide forever. One night, a gang of creepy goons shows up, bursting into the house and coming after Phoenix. Here, the movie is attempting to make us like Norman even more by making these home invaders downright repulsive, and on that front, it's successful. They're all portrayed as a group of unwashed creeps who don't so much smile as they do peel back their lips and reveal glistening teeth. The leader of the group, played with real menace by Brendan Sexton III, is particularly loathsome.

Why do these black-clad bandits want Phoenix so badly? To say any more would give away some of the film's twists, but I can tell you the twists are wildly nonsensical and convoluted. In any case, this sets the stage for Norman to kill off one hapless creep after another in progressively violent ways. Don't Breathe 2 deserves some credit for being a studio movie that dares to go to some rather gnarly, nasty places, and for at least attempting something different rather than recycling the same ideas from the first movie. And there's a sleazy sort of vibe to some moments that go a long way – but not nearly long enough. And it's consistently hard to look beyond the film's portrayal of old Norman.

Don't Breathe 2 consistently gives off the impression that it wants us to root for this guy at every turn and forget all the other stuff. Lang, a very good actor who once again brings a raw physicality to the part, could have pulled off something like this with a slightly better script. Alas, he has to make do with what he's been given, and he's not given much. Still, I'm sure some viewers will have a good time watching Lang smash some heads, roaring like an animal as he goes about his bloody business. Perhaps Don't Breathe 2 would work better for people who haven't seen the first movie at all – they wouldn't be lost, and they wouldn't be witnessing the total character shift from unstoppable killer to flawed savior.

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10