Breaking In, 2018.
Directed by James McTeigue.
Starring Gabrielle Union, Seth Carr, Ajiona Alexus, Christa Miller, Jason George, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden and Damien Leake.
A woman fights to protect her family during a home invasion.
Bless Gabrielle Union for the thoroughly undeserved commitment she lends to this fundamentally naff yet mildly efficient home invasion thriller. You’ve probably seen movies like Breaking In many, many times before, and while this isn’t an especially spirited rendition, its mediocrity is somewhat offset by the solid work both in front of and behind the camera.
In a half-baked attempt to elevate itself above similar entries into the genre, the film sees Union’s Shaun Russell and her two children shacking up at her late father’s high-tech fortress of a home in order to settle his affairs. Before long, a quartet of thieves arrive on the scene, dead set on finding a way inside the locked-down house and retrieving the man’s vast stash of cash.
The vibe is unmistakably shades of David Fincher’s Panic Room, albeit without the same tripwire tension or interesting characters. Union, a talented and likeable actress, can’t be faulted for giving it her all in the lead role, creating a momma bear with nothing to lose while not deigning to cartoonish caricature. The character is fairly unremarkable, but Union’s strong performance makes her and the movie decidedly more watchable than it probably should be.
The real issue, however, is the film’s utter lack of suspense, largely due to the asinine band of thieves and their frequently illogical, eye-rolling decisions. The first of the four men to have a violent encounter with Shaun, for instance, doesn’t carry a phone with him for fear of being tracked by the government.
It’s a howlingly lazy excuse to keep the guy out of contact with his three comrades, and given the stakes of the operation, why would the leader of the gang (Billy Burke) let him join the job without a phone? Even for the low standards of these gimmick thrillers, it’s insulting and patronising.
The bumbling nature of these goons, not to mention their frequent in-fighting, volatility and general weakness, totally undermines any potential for the audience to actually fear that something may happen to Shaun and her children. As such, the main bulk of the movie simply goes through the motions to its inevitable conclusion, even if, again, Union tries her damnedest to sell the terror of the scenario.
Breaking In is directed by James McTeigue, a talented stylist who nevertheless hasn’t made a good movie since his debut, V For Vendetta, and seems curiously committed to working only in glossy schlock these days (his other efforts being Ninja Assassin, The Raven and Survivor).
To his credit, this is more handsomely-mounted than these films tend to be, making solid use of the movie’s single location and ensuring the action is always coherent. It’s just a shame the rock solid technicals are wasted on such a lazily-scripted project.
That’s almost always where these movies fall down, this being no exception. There’s a talented lead, an imposing antagonist – character actor Billy Burke is rather fun here – and a game director at the helm, yet the character work is especially awful, to the point that the house ends up far more interesting than any of the people in it. The central hostage situation, meanwhile, is generally over-keen to merely dabble in warmed-over cliches.
It’s admirable that it doesn’t waste much time getting started – make it through the opening quarter-hour of relentless exposition and you’re good – and with a mere 88-minute runtime it can’t be accused of outstaying its welcome. However, with one foot in more-engaging-than-expected territory and the other in pure trash, Breaking In ultimately ends up feeling a tad schizophrenic. With its clear potential to be a gonzo female empowerment thriller, it’s a shame the bulk of the movie is so flat and perfunctory.
It’s worth knowing that the film is rated 15 in the UK and the BBFC title card notes that it contains “strong violence”, yet those hoping for some bloody, bonkers entertainment will be disappointed to learn that it’s really a “soft 15”, with it being rated PG-13 for the U.S. As such, there’s little actual blood-letting on display, and beyond some occasional shots of blood dripping from a knife, it’s all irritatingly safe and sterile.
Gabrielle Union certainly deserved a much better movie, and while this is a laughably stupid, generic thriller, it at least moves fast and doesn’t do too much to actively offend. It’s bad, for sure, but with the right mindset you can definitely have some wink-wink fun with it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.