Monday, October 25, 2021

Don’t Breathe 2: The Redemption of Norman Nordstrom

Supposedly, Detroit was coming back. Yet, in 2020 homicides still rose 19%, even though total population fell below 640,000. On the other hand, one of Detroit’s most famous cinematic citizens has found redemption in a sequel. In Don’t Breathe, veteran Norman Nordstrom did not take kindly to a band of home invaders (and frankly, we can’t blame him for that). It also turned out he had a few sinister secrets of his own. Since that time, he moved to another abandoned Detroit house, where he raises his adopted daughter Phoenix. He will fight to his last breath (so to speak) when a gang of organ traffickers comes for her in Rodo Sayagues’ Don’t Breathe 2, which releases tomorrow on DVD.

It was annoyingly problematic that Fede Alvarez’s original
Don’t Breathe made a villain out of a blind Vietnam veteran. (Yes, but I’m sure the filmmakers would be the first to say they “support the troops.”) As a result, the sequel is redemption for the franchise, as well as Nordstrom (a.k.a. “The Blind Man”). We do not immediately learn how Nordstrom came to adopt Phoenix, but we eventually understand he found her at an opportune time. During the subsequent years, he home-schooled her, including a rigorous survivalist curriculum. This being Detroit, those lessons will come in handy.

From time-to-time, Nordstrom allows Phoenix to visit the outside world with Hernandez, a veteran landscaper, who purchases the plants he grows in his greenhouse. She is sympathetic, but she cautions him against his excessive over-protectiveness. Yet, Raylan’s creepy meth-headed gang starts stalking Phoenix during one of her rare outings with Hernandez.

Don’t Breathe 2 is probably more brutally violent than its predecessor. While it doesn’t exactly try to walk-back the most damning elements of the first film, it is clear Sayagues and Alvarez (who co-wrote and produced) hope viewers do not remember them. This Nordstrom is haunted and guilt-wracked by his past, but he is definitely a good guy.

Stephen Lang is just as hard-nosed reprising his role as Nordstrom, but this time he plays a flesh-and-blood human being, with heavy emotions. He also seems more credible in the action scenes, even though he is even greyer and more grizzled. Unfortunately, the idea of what the bad guys are up to is scarier than the workmanlike performances of Brendan Sexton III as Raylan and Fiona O’Shaughnessy as his Lady Macbeth.

In contrast, Christian Zagia adds an intriguing dimension as Raul, a henchman troubled by the gang’s savagery (he also portrayed a presumably different Raul in the original film). Stephanie Arcila is also quite good as Hernandez, but unfortunately, she is not around as long as we might like.

Don’t Breathe 2
matches the intensity of the first film, while going a good way towards rehabilitating itself for sliming veterans the first time around. (Admittedly, some of the thugs claim to be “dishonorably discharged from a dishonorable war,” but Hernandez responds to that with the contempt it deserves.) If anything, it makes Detroit look even wilder and sketchier in the intervening years, which apparently reflects reality. Recommended as a solid home invasion/payback thriller, Don’t Breathe 2 releases tomorrow (10/26) on DVD.