Entering the Discourse is a thrice-weekly column where we dig into who is saying what about new releases and upcoming projects. In the column’s first entry, we discuss the response to the new Don’t Breathe 2 trailer.
In March of this year, Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez teased that the upcoming sequel, which he co-wrote with director Rodo Sayagues, would be “just quite different” from the original. Talking to SyFy Wire, he explained that it “has everything you love about the first one, hopefully, but done with a completely different approach, storytelling-wise.”
With the release of the Don’t Breathe 2 trailer this week, we now know what he means.
The original Don’t Breathe, released in 2016, follows a trio of teenagers — Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) — who decide to rob a blind veteran, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), thinking it’ll be an easy job. However, he’s not the helpless man they expect, and they discover a pregnant woman tied up in his basement. This unassuming old man kidnaps, tortures, rapes, and murders young women, and the three protagonists have to escape from his grasp.
Is “The Blind Man” a hero now?
But now, as seen in the Don’t Breathe 2 trailer, “The Blind Man” is no longer the villain. In fact, Norman is portrayed as the hero as he hunts down three men who kidnap the young orphan girl he has taken under his wing. He must tap into his violent nature to fight back and save his pseudo-daughter.
With Norman revealed as the sequel’s protagonist, many fans tweeted in opposition to making a villain, specifically a rapist, sympathetic and heroic. The new movie is confirmed to take place years after the events of the first, which means we’re in for a redemption arc for a horrific monster of a man whose actions in Don’t Breathe are deplorable. And the trailer for Don’t Breathe 2 makes him seem even more innocent as it only barely references what happened in the previous film.
But according to Alvarez’s response to the backlash, the trailer may have been slightly misleading. He tweeted:
What is an anti-villain?
An “anti-villain” is a trope concerning an antagonist who does have heroic goals. This implies, then, that despite Norman being the bad guy, his motivations in Don’t Breathe 2 should still be considered heroic regardless of his sins. Other anti-villain examples include Killmonger in Black Panther and Magneto in X-Men. This means, to Alvarez, Norman still displays some redeemable qualities even in the face of his past. Such a claim is unsettling in this context, again, due to the events of the first movie, particularly one scene involving a turkey baster.
During a special Q&A after the June 30th premiere of the Don’t Breathe 2 trailer, Alvarez and Sayagues were able to go deeper into their choice for Norman’s character arc. First, they explained that “the true protagonist of this movie is the girl” and that “the point of view is never [Norman’s]. We always see him from someone else’s perspective.” The trailer seems to contradict that statement, however, as it focuses solely on Norman and his actions to save a young girl.
With the trailer’s focus on Norman and his actions, it’s hard to see how we are only going to view him from the perspectives of other characters, so the claim made by Alvarez and Sayagues is confusing. Yet, with this discrepancy between what the trailer shows and what the filmmakers say about the sequel, perhaps we can expect something a bit more nuanced than is being marketed.
Don’t Breathe 2 sneaks into theaters on August 13, 2021.