Usually filler thrillers and low budget horror hits are mostly reserved for the beginning of the year, but with Marvel churning out epic after epic in 2018 it seems studios are cautious of trying to compete against the movie-making giant too early which leads to films like “Breaking In” being released. Produced by Universal and starring the often overlooked but very capable Gabrielle Union, this thriller is filler cinema entertainment at its worst. But I’m jumping the gun. Lets take a closer look. This is my review of “Breaking In”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
As mentioned, “Breaking In” stars Gabrielle Union as Shaun Russell, a mother traveling to her father’s estate with her two children, Glover (Seth Carr) and Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus), after her father unexpectedly passes away under suspicious circumstances. It is implied that the father was into some shady money-making deals and when Shaun and her kids arrive they find his home has been turned into a fortress with unbreakable windows, security cameras and a remote that controls every part of the system from anywhere in the house. When a quartet of thieves arrive to steal money from a vault within the home, Shaun finds herself separated from her children and having to resort to desperate measures to break into her father’s estate, free her family and outsmart the thieves at every turn.
There’s a lot I didn’t like about “Breaking In”, obviously, but just as no movie is truly perfect few movies are completely nonredeemable. Anyway, let’s start with the leading lady Gabrielle Union who often falls into the supporting cast of films and thus has never truly shined as the star she has proven she can be. Union may not be perfect in this movie, but she’s better than anyone else on screen as she tries her best to embrace the mentality and desperation of a mother trying to rescue her kids from a group of violent strangers. Union makes Shaun out to be a capable and tough cookie, subverting the famously overused damsel in distress trope in an interesting way. She also manages to go beyond the limits of the script and screenplay to portray a convincingly cunning woman who neither the audience nor the thieves know enough about to prepare for her capabilities. It doesn’t really show everything Union is capable of as an actress, but as a clear attempt at being a female driven career builder for her “Breaking In” a good example of her ability to carry a movie on her shoulders.
One of the few things that impressed me about “Breaking In” is its willingness to let Union’s character shine and to keep some aspects of her personality and abilities pretty well hidden until the narrative called for them. We know about as much about her as the thieves do other than the fact that she had an obviously jaded relationship with her father that caused her to rebuild her life and self-esteem which is made clear to the viewer early on but left unknown to the thieves. Like many home invasion films, it’s fun to see Shaun show off her hidden talents and mental toughness that isn’t immediately apparent. It’s an neat spin on the home invasion trope to make the main character have to break into the home instead of someone else having to force themselves in. Honestly, it’s a neat setup that could have been very entertaining in more capable hands. That brings me to the negatives about the film.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
To play off my previous statement about this setup being a neat idea done wrong, “Breaking In” feels like a wasted opportunity really. There’s nothing inventive or unique about this movie outside of its premise, which even then looks good on paper but suffers from poor execution on screen. Writer Ryan Engle and director James McTeigue (who has very few quality films outside of “V for Vendetta” to his credit) settle for the lowest hanging fruit in their attempt to create a sellable discount thriller. While “Breaking In” can be fun at times, it’s fun in the way every other home invasion film is giving us “is he really dead” moment, subtle and watered down violence and a group of villains meant to be only slightly charming if at all.
Speaking of the bad guys lets focus on them for a second. The four thieves are played by Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Levi Meaden and Damien Leake and absolutely NONE of them stand out or bring anything new to the table. There’s no chemistry or subtlety in any of their performances at all. They’re about as generic as they can get, a theme for this film as a whole, and fit pretty much every stereotype you can imagine for a movie like this. While Billy Burke does at least try to come off as a cunning and likable villain as the leader of the four, all of the villains are overacted or feel phoned in with little development as to their motives and rushed character development to depict the different traits that set them apart on this mission. It was incredibly hard for me to get invested in this movie because from the moment these thieves arrived on the scene there were no stakes. I knew the mother was going to get her way and never once for a second believed these guys had the upper hand or were a true threat to Shaun or her children with all the dumb decisions and blatant ignorance they presented.
But that’s not even the worst part of this film. The worst thing about “Breaking In” is that as a whole is predictable, sloppy, rushed, contrived, and by the books. “Breaking In” feels like nothing more than a copycat film trying to make money off of the same thrills and kills that we’ve seen a million times before. It’s as basic as you can get really. There’s no real substance and there are plot holes a plenty including the thieves leaving doors open and being able to access the home seemingly without keys and an unfinished subplot that is hinted at with the death of the father at the very beginning. “Breaking In” want’s so bad to be a movie like “Panic Room” but suffers from pacing issues, mostly horrible and generic acting and a predictable plot you can lay out on a notepad in the first five minutes of the action. Even worse than that though, all of this could have been harmless familiar fun but it’s not. “Breaking In” more than anything else is just plain boring. Even where it could have squeezed SOME life out of the clichés and tropes it all-to-often embraces it does nothing. The filmmakers seemed content on churning out the most basic film they could and thus there’s nothing fun about “Breaking In” that we haven’t seen before.
I think my case has already been made. “Breaking In’ is nothing special or new. Gabrielle Union is the one redeemable part of this movie but even her capabilities are held back by a lousy script and an uninteresting, paint-by-numbers story with horribly acted and developed villains and plot elements that were blatantly ripped off from far better projects. This is one of the most basic thrillers I’ve ever seen on the big screen and sadly wastes an intriguing premise and drops the ball on an opportunity to allow a female lead to take the reins and destroy the damsel in distress cliché. If home invasion fun is what you’re looking for then there are much better classic films you can turn to if you want to scratch that itch. Hell, I made a whole top ten list of better films in that subgenre you can choose from and you can read it here. As for “Breaking In”, this is a thriller that lacks thrills or any essence of creativity or conviction and thus is better left unwatched.