Stephen Lang’s lethal blind Navy SEAL returns to terrify audiences in Don’t Breathe 2. Directed by Rodo Sayagues and co-written by Fede Alvarez, it lacks the originality of the first film but conjures up some compelling twists and turns for a surprisingly entertaining sequel. Sony gives the film a terrific 4K Ultra HD release with an impressive HDR10 transfer and an excellent Atmos audio mix to match and some worthwhile bonus features. Recommended
Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), has rebuilt his life. Now with a daughter, Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), he lives in relative peace - but fearful of the outside world. He trains Phoenix in a variety of survival skills throughout their dilapidated Detroit subdivision while limiting her time in the outside world and homeschooling her. During one of her rare trips into town, a creepy man called Raylan (Brendan Sexton III) takes notice of Phoenix in a public restroom. That night Raylan and his unseemly crew break into Norman’s home to kidnap the young girl - but Norman has been preparing for this day and he’s more than ready for when the lights go out.
href="https://bluray.highdefdigest.com/38100/dontbreathe.html" target="_blank">Don’t Breathe was a terrific and terrifyingly creative spin on the Home Invasion horror subgenre. The film smartly played with expectations and continuously pulled the rug out from under you all while Stephen Lang crafted a memorable new horror lead. Original film co-writer Rodo Sayagues ascends to the Director’s chair with a script he wrote with Fede Alvarez and the pair aim to flip and spin the genre around again in some impressively unexpecting ways. However, your personal moral compass will likely impact how well you feel about these twists and turns - even more so than the first film.
The film opens with a small child walking away from a burning Detroit home and passing out in the street. Flashing forward six years, that little girl is now eleven-year-old Phoenix played with amazing skill and conviction by Madelyn Grace. We soon learn she’s been in the care of Stephen Lang’s Norman - a prospect we already should be leery of given the events of the first film. He's trained her to survive a cruel world but shares little of her life before the fire and sparse details about her mother.
When we’re introduced to Brendon Sexton III’s Raylan, we assume he’s a creepy pervert - he doesn’t exactly exude any other quality. So it’s not a surprise when his gang shows up outside Norman’s home that their goal is to abduct young Phoenix. It’s truly a nail-biting suspenseful sequence! Sayagues may be a first-time director but he shows capable confidence with the camera knowing when and for how long to let the camera linger on a shot before cutting or letting it fluidly drift away to follow the action.
The problem for Don’t Breathe 2 is when various characters’ motivations are exposed. As we learned with Norman in the first film, nothing is quite as it seems. The villain may be the victim and the victim may be the villain. The frustrating thing is morality rests in a precarious gray area throughout the film. In fact, outside of a couple of dogs and Phoenix, there’s only one other character in the film that’s even remotely morally centered, but they are killed off shockingly early. So while the twists and turns are interesting takes and keep you on your toes, they’re either going to offend and alienate you or draw you into the narrative.
I found myself riding in the latter camp albeit rather uncomfortably. What I liked about Don’t Breathe 2 were these twists and turns in the plot and characters. I didn't see them coming. They kept me guessing and prevented this film from being a boring retread of the first film or a completely soulless sequel. My biggest issue with this film is that it doesn’t really feel like a horror film anymore. While there’s enough violence with gore aplenty to appease genre aficionados, this sequel is more of a thriller now with some impressive suspense sequences. Fights are appropriately gnarly and brutal but again, outside of ample blood - not horrifying, just very suspenseful. Even what would constitute a "jump scare" doesn't come off as such.
Throughout it all, Stephen Lang takes center stage and holds court. This is his franchise and he shows how well he can carry the show. While his character can range all over the scale of despicable, he’s a force to be reckoned with delivering an emotionally captivating and physically impressive performance. Madelyn Grace also holds her own nicely going above and beyond the norm for an actress in her age range. Brendon Sexton III turns in a solid performance as well - he’s certainly come a long way from Empire Records! He even delivers a nice Gary Oldman moment in the third act so keep an eye out for that.
Will there be another Don’t Breathe? Probably not, but then who knows - these aren't expensive films. I wouldn’t mind seeing another one if a clever concept could be concocted but the premiss has already been stretched pretty damn thin. It took enough suspension of disbelief to accept this second outing. And truthfully we probably didn’t need this sequel - but the world isn’t any worse for wear now that it’s here. It all depends on if Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez can come up with a reason for Stephen Lang to slip on those Blind Man contacts one more time.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray?
Don’t Breathe 2 beats its predecessor to 4K with a single-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Digital set. No 1080p Blu-ray disc was included for this release. The disc is housed in a sturdy snapper black 4K case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to trailers for upcoming Sony releases before arriving at a static image main menu with the bonus features occupying the righthand side of the screen. The included Digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible.
One of the things I loved about the original Don’t Breathe was the cinematography. Sure, it was almost entirely black with shades of shadows and minimal lighting, but it was amazing to watch. Cinematographer Pedro Luque returns offering up a beautiful new take for this film. While steeped in shadows and low lighting, there’s a lot more visual punch for this HDR10 transfer. I haven’t been able to find details about the final digital intermediate, but the cameras max out at 3.4K making it more likely to be a 2K upscale rather than a native 4K source. Regardless, this is still a damn good-looking flick.
Again, outside of the opening 10-15 minutes, there’s little to no daylight in this film. Everything you’re able to see comes from some strategically placed lamps and flashlights. Image clarity and the range in colors and light are all purposefully tamped down - but still look excellent. Image depth is maintained with how well light, darkness, and shadows combine.
That’s where HDR10 really comes to the forefront for this transfer. Except for the climax and a house fire, there’s not much color to soak in and appreciate. What splashes we get are vivid and pop nicely. The main draw here is how HDR works to balance out black levels and contrast. Whites are nice and crisp giving off appropriate luminance in the darkest sequences. Blacks are deep and inky with excellent shadow and light gradience to give the image a sense of depth.
Details are crisp and clean, you can fully appreciate facial features, costuming, and the film’s production design even in the darkest sequences. The makeup and gore effects are appropriately gnarly - at least the non-CGI ones. An issue to note and it’s pretty common with HDR is how CGI makeup or effects can “float” and there are a couple of stabby effects that stand out in that way. Since this set doesn’t have a 1080p disc to compare I can’t offer my thoughts on that side of it, but these sequences are so brief it’s not a big deal. Most of the best gnarly bits look to be good old-fashioned practical effects. The other small issue of note is some very slight video noise. It’s not too loud or intrusive, but I did spot it throughout. One could almost mistake it for unresolved fine film grain if I didn't know this shot digitally. Again, not distracting but easy to spot just the same. As a whole, this is a solid UHD transfer and I do hope the first Don’t Breathe feels its way 4K disc. Maybe someday.
Next up is an impressive and deftly immersive Atmos audio mix. Again one of the best aspects of the first film is carried over here and that’s the use of near-complete silence. It may not make for the most “loud and in your face” sound design, but for capturing the tension of a moment, it’s incredible. This is a movie that thrives on silence with pinpoint object effects to build and maintain that suspense. So while all of the channels may not be firing all at once they’re working exactly as intended.
The home invasion sequence is one of many highlight moments in the film. As Phoenix stealthily works around to evade her would-be kidnappers, their footsteps and whispering voices are peppered throughout the channels - in the front, sides, rears, and even heights. The thump thump thump of footfalls is damned creepy! But this film isn’t all silence and shadowplay. There are several other big action beats that really let the sound design rip wild - a blazing inferno sequence is particularly effective with a raging fire engulfing the sides, height channels, and punching some LFE.
Throughout the rest of the mix - dialog is clean and clear without issues. Levels are spot on without the need to go loud, but I do recommend turning things up for maximum impact. Roque Baños returns for another moody atmospheric score that fills in nicely at key points but doesn’t overpower the mix to add sound for the purpose of adding sound. Not always the most action-packed Atmos track, but a damn creepy and effective one.
Sadly the making-of bonus features are a bit light. Really all we’re getting is some EPK materials. There are some nuggets in there but nothing overwhelmingly informative. As an area native, it’s funny as hell to me that they only shot a few exteriors in Detroit and instead shot the rest of the film in Serbia. Wouldn’t have thought that to be cheaper and safer than Detroit.
The best bonus features are the audio commentaries, well, at least one of them anyway. Rodo Sayagues records a solo commentary which is a pretty good listen - but he also recorded one with Fede Alvarez - in Spanish. Since my handle of the language is all of one out of every three or four words, it went past me. What can I say, I took German in high school. Thankfully there are English subtitles available for this track because they do have a lot of great info to share. The extended alternate ending isn’t much of anything more than a slight scene extension.
The world probably didn’t ask for a Don’t Breathe 2 - arguably it didn’t necessarily need one either. But, it’s not poorer for having one. Rodo Sayagues crafts a clever second film that isn’t as strong or as original feeling as the first, but with some solid suspense, clever plot twists, and another dedicated performance from Stephen Lang it’s certainly worth checking out. I was surprised to find myself enjoying it far more than I expected.
Sony brings Don’t Breathe 2 to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with an excellent HDR10 transfer capped off with an effective and engaging Atmos mix to match. Bonus features are a tad slim, but the two audio commentaries are well worth going through. Certainly not a movie for everyone, but if you dug the first film you should get a kick out of this one. Recommended