Five years ago, director Fede Álvarez's horror/thriller Don't Breathe shocked audiences, and the industry, as it became one of the year's biggest sleeper hits making an astounding $157 million with only a $10 million budget. It starred actor Stephen Lang (Avatar) as blind Gulf War veteran, Norman Nordstrom, defending his home from a trio of youths looking to rob him.
If you've seen the film, Álvarez and his co-writer, Rodo Sayagues, masterfully mess with the audience's perception of just who exactly is right or wrong, subverting expectations until the very end. Obviously, the Norman Nordstrom character makes it out of that film, but figuring out what might be next for that scarily brutal and tirelessly clever man was the big challenge for the filmmakers.
The first revelations about how they did it came today at a press preview in Los Angeles on June 29, where SYFY WIRE and a few other select outlets were the first to get a sneak peek at Don't Breathe 2, which releases in U.S. theaters this August 13.
There were also three nerve-rattling scenes, including one with a very off-label use for Super Glue, that confirms just how ramped up this sequel promises to be.
First off, this story does not include Jane Levy's Rocky who battled to the end with Norman. Álvarez said she never factored into their brainstorming for this sequel. "Her story is done," he asserted. "She succeeds and escapes. There might be a version a lot of people expected where's he gonna go get her, but why would he?"
Instead, Norman has relocated to a new home, and has isolated himself even more from society which Álvarez said allowed them to explore what happens when that kind of isolation allows someone to make their own rules about what is right or wrong. "That's a terrible way to live," he laughed. However, it created a starting point for taking another look at where Norman is in the wake of that home invasion and see his new worldview as it happens when a new trio of home invaders arrive.
Don't Breathe 2 also introduces a new character, Phoenix, played by Madelyn Grace, a young-girl who is currently in Norman's life, and is the rare someone he wants to protect. She gets caught in his house when the new threat arrives but proves to be unexpectedly resourceful. Without spoiling more about her, Álvarez just teased, "The true protagonist of this movie is the girl. [Norman] is like a shadow character. He's the one that, because you start knowing more about him, you might not be sure if you know who he is going to play in this one. Or, if his actions are for good reasons, or bad reasons.
Asked if audiences should look at Norman in a new, perhaps more sympathetic light in this story, both men were loathe to agree to that. Álvarez instead offered, "I wouldn't say he's an antihero because it has the word 'hero' in it and he is not. It's tricky and difficult to navigate a character like this. As a writer, we have to show empathy in a way to anybody, but I think that's just because we went to a Christian school," he laughed. "I think we channel that, but it's really hard to forgive him. And we don't really. Actually if anything in this movie, we just double down on the truth of who he is. A lot of this is movie is about coming to terms with who he truly is. But I would really leave it up to you to decide who do you think he is."
And while the film opens in a similar space as its predecessor, Álvarez said director Rodo Sayagues takes this film far outside of the scope of Don't Breathe. "I would say the first hour of this movie is just the tip of the iceberg of the true story. The first half of the movie has a lot in common with the first, but then Rodo goes into unchartered territories that the first one didn't go. I think he created so many new layers of the world. You'll see how simple the first one is compared to what he does."