Producer Fede Alvarez and director Rodo Sayagues tell STACK why Don’t Breathe 2 isn’t your average horror sequel, and how inspiration came from a most unlikely place…
It’s been five years since director Fede Alvarez introduced us to “The Blind Man” in the nail-biting horror-thriller, Don’t Breathe.
For fans of the original, there’s many ways a sequel could have gone down – most obviously with The Blind Man eliciting excruciating revenge on Jane Levy’s Rocky for robbing his money.
“But that would be too easy,” says Alvarez, who enlisted his writing partner Rodo Sayagues to direct the sequel.
“Filmmakers in general are just guilty of the sin of going the easy way and just giving the audience exactly the same but bigger, and that’s it. But we tried really hard not to do that and come up with a concept that was unexpected, even if that’s what you read from the end of the first film,” says Alvarez.
Admittedly, he and Sayagues did toy with that idea. “We actually shot a version of that and then realised it was going to be silly somehow; we wanted this story to be a fresher take on a part two. We wanted to put us in a place where not only could it be faithful to the spirit of the first one, where people feel like it’s from the same universe, but it could also be a stand-alone story that starts from scratch.
“We really tried hard to not take the easy way. This story required a lot more crafting, whereas anybody could easily pitch a sequel from the original story in two seconds – she’s at home alone, there’s a noise outside, who is it? Maybe it’s him, maybe it isn’t.”
More practically, Sayagues argues, “Also, in the first movie, they kind of make a deal. The Blind Man says take the money and, in taking the money, you’re not going to say anything about what I’ve done, so you get away with it and I get away with it too. Kind of like a shared secret, so it would be weird for this guy to, right away, go, ‘You know what? I’m gonna find the girl’. It would be risky for him as well.”
Welcome to the all-new Don’t Breathe 2 where, once more, the audience is conflicted about whether or not to actually feel sorry for The Blind Man and almost root for him.
“The first movie is all about this guy who does horrendous things yet justifies every single one of them. That’s why he’s such a compelling character, because every time you judge him, it’s like, ‘Yeah wait, but this is why I’m doing it’, and we give you some very strong arguments as to why he’s doing whatever he’s doing.
“In his head he’s convinced he’s right, regardless of the fact he’s doing unspeakable things, so we thought it would be interesting to tell Part 2 where he will have to get out of there and come to terms with what he’s done.
“In the first movie he’s convinced he’s a hero, so the thing he fears the most in this one is having to face the reality of who he truly is,” explains Alvarez, whose early success with Evil Dead and the original Don’t Breathe enabled him to direct big-budget thriller The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
Today when we revisit The Blind Man, we learn he has taken in a little girl – flawlessly played by Grey’s Anatomy child actress Madelyn Grace – and is raising her as his own daughter. All is well in his screwed-up universe until he comes to the attention of some very bad people.
Needless to say, young Ms. Grace must contend with some gory atrocities, which no parent would want their own kid to witness.
“On set, our job was to make it feel like a game for her, even though the final product is intense and violent. But, when you’re shooting, it’s not like that at all and we made it fun for her,” says Sayagues.
Unusual in the horror genre, Don’t Breathe 2 carries some weighty dramatic legacy.
“It’s an homage to Star Wars and so many other things, too. At the end of the day, you’re talking about the hero myth and Joseph Campbell, and if you go back, you can chase it back thousands of years,” says the director.
Amusingly, Alvarez and Sayagues didn’t realise they were treading in Star Wars territory when they first co-wrote the script.
“We wrote the dialogue and then Rodo calls me one day and said, ‘I just found an issue. This line is exactly what Luke says to Darth Vader…’ Rodo didn’t know what to do and I said, ‘Let’s just leave it for the smart people to figure it out’,” laughs Alvarez.
“You can compare the entire final scene with Darth Vader and Luke. It makes such an imprint on your subconsciousness that it’s inevitable that it comes out but, in all honesty, it was not conscious at all. It just came out in a very natural and organic way and we love to see that happen,” insists Sayagues.
“But there are going to be some hardcore fans in the audience when the dialogue happens, going, ‘What?’” teases Alvarez.
In his defence, he adds, “Look, every genre movie is inspired by Star Wars. Unless you find one director that makes genre movies that has not seen the Star Wars movies, particularly The Empire Strikes Back.”