It’s Really Hard to Enjoy the Film If You Remember the Bit With the Turkey Baster: Our Review of ‘Don’t Breathe 2’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 15, 2021
It’s Really Hard to Enjoy the Film If You Remember the Bit With the Turkey Baster: Our Review of ‘Don’t Breathe 2’

If you were to choose one bona-fide, instant horror cult classic from the 2010s, you’d be hard pressed to do better than David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. There’s a lot to like about It Follows, from its simple, high-concept premise (the STD is a ghost) to its effective use of deep focus photography that adds to the dread found within the film, to its John Carpenter driven score.

If you were to choose the second bona-fide, instant horror cult classic from the 2010s, you’d be hard pressed to choose another Detroit-centered horror film: Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe, which stars Jane Levy as a member of a rag-tag group of vandals who mess with the wrong blind man’s house. The conception of Detroit as a run-down testimony to American failures, coalesced into a strangely conservative power-fantasy; one which featured a former Navy Seal with the easiest motive ever to defend his house in the most brutal way possible.

Don’t Breathe 2 decides that it desperately needs to continue that blind man’s, named Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), story. Debut director Rodo Sayagues’ sequel also feels very compelled to do an about face from Norman as the villain to Norman as anti-hero. Norman’s shift seems to be predicated on the relationship he’s developed with daughter Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), who he’s training to be a stone-cold killer just like him. It’s all very sweet, right up until a group of thugs, led by former meth dealer Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), attempt to kidnap Phoenix for an organ harvesting scheme that’s telegraphed mere seconds into the film.

As a result, Norman is forced to go after Phoenix. This shifts the text from survival horror film to revenge fantasy, where Norman has full reign to go after a set of thugs who want to steal an eight-year-old child’s organs. In a strange way, this spiritually aligns Don’t Breathe 2 with its predecessor. Detroit is still a hellish wasteland, replete with rundown building and abandoned areas, where your organs could be harvested at any moment. Sayagues desperately mutes the colours of Don’t Breathe’s Detroit, emphasizing the fact that this world is one devoid of colour.

Most importantly, it’s a city that is inherently unsafe. When the 2008 Global Recession kicked into high-gear, Detroit came to be seen as the epicenter of a changing modern world, forgotten by shifts in world capital. Once a booming auto manufacturing city, Detroit’s more affluent families moved to the suburbs. This had a two-fold effect. One, it created a stratification of wealth within the city. Two, it lead to mass underdevelopment of the inner city. Hollywood loves the look of a dilapidated Detroit, because the movies have always loved the look and feel of cities. And there’s poetic beauty to be found within ruins photography. But Hollywood also has an unfortunate tendency to turn stories about Detroit into spectacles of urban horror.

It’s very difficult to shake the feeling that this all seems a little irresponsible here. Sayagues and the original Don’t Breathe‘s director Fede Alvarez are both credited with the script, which feels less politically fraught and more politically ambivalent. With the marketing, the filmmakers spent careful time to explicitly lay out how they saw their main character. He’s not a hero or an anti-hero, he’s an anti-villain. We know he’s in the wrong, everyone else knows that he’s in the wrong. But Norman feels that he’s in the right.

Frankly, this doesn’t exactly show in Don’t Breathe 2. Norman is very clearly the film’s hero, because Sayagues makes careful sure to highlight the cartoony-evil of Sexton III’s Raylan. Raylan is cruel to all those around him, especially dogs, which is cinematic shorthand for the root of all things evil. Moreover, when Raylan’s real relationship with Phoenix is finally revealed, the machinations of his plotting are stomach-churning. Which means that the audience firmly is supposed to be in Norman’s camp.

That’s partially because the real selling point of these films is that we want to see Home Alone but with gore. In that sense, it feels as if Don’t Breathe 2 is designed to be seen without having seen Don’t Breathe. Because ultimately, the action is enjoyable. I’ll give Sayagues credit where credit is due, they can build a mean set-piece. There’s one long take in the film that’s about as pure a piece of kinetic, technique driven cinema as I will see all year, filled with beautiful focus pulls and excellent blocking. Yet, it’s hard to enjoy the film if you remember the bit with the turkey baster from last time out. It even harder to enjoy the film is you understand the larger subtext that the filmmakers are working with here.

In fact, it’s the nihilism that holds Don’t Breathe 2 back. Right now, people are debating if the slow comeback for the movies is a result of simultaneous streaming and theatrical releases. And while there’s a grain truth to the fact that streaming probably cuts into a film’s bottom line, I wonder just how much of that bottom line is doubly impacted by how brazenly unpleasant some films are. I liked this quite a bit, until it became tired. And right now, I’m too tired to deal with tired films.

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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