the awkward but interesting shift in toward “don’t breathe 2”

One of my favorite monster movies of the past few years (and, in a nit-picky way, I do think that monster movies are different from slasher movies–we can talk about that sometime) is director Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (2016), his follow-up to the Evil Dead reboot he helmed a couple years prior (the rare precious reboot which is both Its Very Own Thing and Loyal to the Source Material). 

The sequel (which Alvarez is producing but not directing) comes out this weekend. 

Every Thursday night since the pandemic began I’ve been watching movies online with two good friends, Pavel Klein of the Florida Film Critic Circle, and our mutual friend Jesus (works at Baptist, if that matters). We were all making note of the sequel and, since my memory of the original is cloudy but warm, I suggested we watch it this past Thursday as a primer for the sequel. Everybody was aboard, and so we watched it, and everyone liked it…but we’re also a bit tilted by the sequel’s switcheroo. 

Specifically: the villain of the first movie (a blind-but-lethal Vietnam veteran played with ambling, gaping, chin-canted menace by Stephen Lang) is the hero of the sequel. 

But in the first movie–spoilers–we learn that Lang’s character (labeled The Blind Man in credits) raped a young woman with a turkey baster to impregnate her. And, toward the end of that movie, he’s apprehended in the process of trying to do this maneuver a second time to someone else. 

My friends and I were talking about the weirdness of suddenly making this guy into a hero, even though it makes plenty of commercial sense (“Remake Taken, but make the hero blind”), and then I saw this afternoon that Daily Beast rang the same bell with a characteristically nuanced headline: “‘Don’t Breathe 2’ Wants You to Root for a Rapist”. 

I’m still gonna see it, but yeah: when you make your character a murderous kidnapper and rapist, it’s a big shift, maybe a bit higher than most people can suspend, to then make him a hero in the direct sequel. 

The horror novelist Grady Hendrix mentioned in a podcast, while promoting Final Girl Support Group, that if you’re a small-budget movie, and you’re looking to capture some real magic on screen, the magic ingredient is finding an older actor, someone between 65 and 85, who’s got a lot of character just in their face, someone who’s been around long enough to see how people behave, to know their own body, to bring shit to the story just with the volume of their presence. (You can hear my conversation with Grady Hendrix, by the way, on the latest episode of Thousand Movie Project Podcast right here!)

Stephen Lang is That Guy for me now. 

I thought he was a great villain in Avatar, back in 2009, and I remember being surprised that I’d never seen him in a leading role before. Then I learned that he was pioneering a fan-backed campaign to play the Marvel villain Cable. The campaign flopped, but it was cool to see.

Lang’s also a charming lead in one of my favorite indie horror movies from the past few years. VFW is about a few Vietnam veterans who get trapped in a dive bar during a kind of zombie apocalypse; the story’s more complex than that, but not too complex for its budget, and certainly not too complex for its talent–which, heralding the insight of Hendrix’s suggestion for indie filmmakers, comprises a cast of late-middle age actors who’ve starred in things without ever really being the star. 

They’re actors who know how to play along. Nobody’s trying to steal the show. 

Anyway. Lang’s one of just a handful of actors whose presence, for me, is cause enough to go watch something. I’m wary, like others, of suddenly seeing this character in a totally new light, but Lang, at 69 years old, is having a Golden Moment, a belated and richly-deserved Moment, and I’m eager to see what he does with a regrettably ill-considered but potentially fruitful character shift.

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