Eight years after the events of 'Don't Breathe', Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) lives a quiet life with his adopted daughter, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) in Detroit. However, a violent criminal (Brendan Sexton III) tracks down Phoenix and kidnaps her, sending Norman out into the world in search of bloody vengeance...
When we think of horror movies and sequels, the survivors of the original rarely return. There's a couple of exceptions, but generally speaking, it's the monster that people come back for.
Human or otherwise, the monster is the reason audiences turn up because they wanted to be scared again, they want to see how they'll tear more poor bastards to shreds, and if - at long last - one of them might be smart enough to get the better of them. 'Don't Breathe', the surprise horror hit of 2016, saw the always reliable Stephen Lang as a blinded army veteran who mercilessly kills a group of thieves attempting to rob him. That's the starting point, but then it goes into a puddle of violent kills, a subplot about a dead daughter, vengeance, rape, forced pregnancy, and more before it winds itself up.
Naturally, the sequel was obviously going to include Stephen Lang's character, but it's in how they try to rehabilitate him from the first one that proves to be too much. In the first movie, it's revealed that Lang's character had been hiding a pregnant woman in his basement who he had incubated with his own semen so that she could give birth to a daughter that he felt he deserved after said woman had killed his own in a car accident. This time around, Lang's character has now rescued a young girl and is living a relatively uneventful life after the events of the first one, training her to be a killing machine like him. The young girl, by the way, is 11 years old. When the young girl leaves the house on a simple errand, she's sighted (no pun intended) by a criminal gang who devise a plan to kidnap her for reasons that'd give away half the movie.
Now, rehabilitating a villainous character into some kind of damaged, tragi-hero isn't anything new. 'Star Wars' did it with Darth Vader, turning him from a murderous cyborg into an estranged father in the course of the original trilogy and expanding on it in the prequel trilogy. 'Don't Breathe' consciously asked the audience to question who they're rooting for, multiple times, throughout the story. Yes, they're thieves, but they're doing it for the right reasons. Yes, he's killing the thieves in brutal fashion, but they're trying to rob a blind man. He's kept a woman pregnant in his basement because she killed his daughter, and the thieves shot her dead. 'Don't Breathe 2' doesn't ask the audience to question itself in the same fashion. It just delivers more gory thrills instead. Stephen Lang mercilessly hunts down bad guys, super-glueing their mouths shut so he can kill them quietly, all before the inevitable finale that will fully redeem his character. Again, this is a character who - in the last movie - held a woman hostage in the previous movie and was keeping her forcibly pregnant in his basement. Yet, in this movie, it's almost as if they're trying to make him into John Wick, complete with the catalyst for his rampage involving a dog.
To his credit, Stephen Lang plays the role of violent avenger with ease. He's such a physical presence on screen, conveying all of the rage and bitterness one would expect in a man who's seen too much. Like 'Don't Breathe', Lang's committed performance is better than some of the flat dialogue he's forced to contend with. Rodo Sayagues, who's bumped from co-writer on the first one to director here, has a good command of the tension and the atmosphere that made 'Don't Breathe' so compelling, but you can feel the wheels start to wobble by the end of the first act. As much as the issues are with the story and the character, there's also the fact that 'Don't Breathe' was lightning in a bottle. Trying to recapture it is always going to be a losing enterprise. You'll invariably draw comparisons and it comes up short. In fact, it draws attention to that fact by replaying the hits, or in this case, the kills, and trying to come up with more inventive methods.
Ultimately, 'Don't Breathe 2' has some thrills, and gorehounds won't come away disappointed by it. Stephen Lang's performance is committed, visceral, and he's so much better than the crap he frequently turns up in. 'Don't Breathe 2' doesn't fall into that category, but it's a horror sequel that is noticeably weaker than the original, and fails to utilise what made it so interesting in the first place.