There’s hardly anything more cathartic than a blind ex-marine hunting down human traffickers. Except, this ex-marine is in essence also a human trafficker. All in all, this horror movie review is tricky because of one character: Norman Nordstrom. Don’t Breathe 2, an August 2021 horror movie sequel, tries to change its form from its predecessor. Don’t Breathe (2016) originally intended its antagonist to behave differently from the one shown in the sequel. In the original, Norman Nordstrom was a depraved and mean-spirited murderer and rapist who justified his actions under the guise of weak restitution.
Don’t Breathe 2
Don’t Breathe 2 takes it up a notch and gives Norman Nordstrom a redemption arc. How could that possibly work? Well, now his killings are justified. He even saves a dog. But as said by Vulture in their movie review, “The sequel is even more of a stress test for automatic audience identification with a protagonist.”
Warning: major spoilers ahead for Don’t Breathe 2!
Let’s get this out of the way early: there are only two decent people in this movie and one of them dies early on.
The events that lead to this film’s home invasion initially seem random. It’s suggested these intruders are employed by a doctor briefly mentioned in a news story who is kidnapping people and harvesting their organs. Norman Nordstrom’s new young daughter appears to be their next target. It all winds up so fast that by the time the men enter the house I can’t tell if they will take the girl and Nordstrom will chase them down or if the entire film will take place in the house like the first one. Its lengthy time in the house points to this being the setting for the rest of the movie, but then a plot twist throws itself into the wheel like a wrench and I wasn’t entirely sure what to think from it. It’s not necessarily bad, either.
These characters hop-scotch between good and evil so quickly if you blink you won’t know who to root for. The Guardian said of the daughter character’s screen time, “There’s a no-stakes flatness to the scenes that don’t involve her as we watch odious thugs take on an odious rapist, a collection of #TeamNoOne showdowns. Let them all burn.”
But then we get the whole truth. And it doesn’t make it any easier to choose. The mother reveals herself, approaching Tara in a wheelchair from the shadows. She admits to being a meth lab cook. When a fire broke out and destroyed the lab, the chemicals destroyed her heart. She’s dying and needs a transplant. I’m sure the donor list isn’t too extensive–
Oh. Wait. I see where this is going. And so does Tara, but it’s too late. She’d been drugged by her own parents. She will die to save her mother who’s only needed alive to keep cooking meth. “Sayagues seems to argue, this man has committed murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and a few other crimes so horrific that I don’t even want to Google-search the right name for them,” a movie review by The Wrap says. “But at least he’s not as evil as those OTHER guys, right? Right?”
Violence and Depravity
It’s here where I realized there’s not much decency shared on screen. Despite this, Norman Nordstrom really does love Tara. Even though my brain is scrambled at this point, I root for the lesser evil to save the last glimmer of hope left in the movie. Said by The New York Times, “Compared to his competition, Norman looks like Father of the Year.”
The ending sat heavier in my stomach than the bag of Reese’s Pieces I downed during the previews. Most everyone dies, and they die in horrible ways. It’s great. I don’t think there’s a better way to end this movie. Before he dies, Nordstrom confesses to the horrible things he’s done and admits to Tara that she’s the only one in life who saved his soul. She goes off to a shelter and makes friends her age, now naming herself Phoenix. Roll credits.
There’s really no getting around it. These people are all monsters and they know it. The characters just don’t care all that much. The violence doesn’t justify a means to an end. There’s no philosophy here. There are a few loose moral justifications, but the main focus isn’t about justifying the violence. Rather, Don’t Breath 2 poses the question about each character’s motivation: is it reason enough? In the end, the answer is up to interpretation.
In some ways, Nordstrom is saved, but he still dies horribly just like the people he killed. He’d crossed the threshold and gone too far. Saving Tara couldn’t erase what he’d done. Confession and forgiveness weren’t enough. At least, that’s how I saw it.
Don’t Breathe 2 might be the best horror movie of 2021, but that’s not saying much, and it’s already the end of August. It was a bit too jarring. It moved so quickly it was hard to process most things. The movie was stylized and used clever tricks, but when the lights came on, I felt pretty grimy. I give Don’t Breathe 2 movie credit for making a protagonist out of a morally decrepit human being. It also does a good job of not forcing an answer down our throats and instead of letting the audience decide if Nordstrom earned redemption. While I’d still recommend Don’t Breathe 2 in the end, be ready for a scary albeit jarring experience.
- Great cinematography
- The conclusion
- Characters are fleshed out (literally in some cases)
- The plot pulls you in
- Hidden clues in each scene
- A little heavy
- The violence is a tad unbelievable
- Some scenarios are just as unbelievable
- Too few morally decent characters