By: Steve Pulaski
As someone who only attends matinée showings at the theater (and indulges in the benefits of MoviePass to boot), I cannot fathom someone spending $10+ to see something as incompetently written and lifelessly directed as James McTeigue’s Breaking In. I assume the ideal viewing, if there is one, would be during a nightly cable airing on a junk-drawer television network where commercial breaks would at least offer the viewer an opportunity for themselves to breakaway, despite that ultimately prolonging the 88 minute endurance test. Even Redbox machines deserve better contents than this drivel.
Gabrielle Union might not be a showstopping actress, but one can hardly judge her harshly for what subpar material she’s tasked to handle here. Nearly everything around Union — from supporting actors, to cinematography, direction, editing, and score — fail her in such a way that occasional glimmers of prowess she shows serve as something of a miracle. Similar to Taraji P. Henson starting the year off rocky with Proud Mary only to give a uniformly good performance in Tyler Perry’s Acrimony two months later, I hope Union gets her time to shine in Emilio Estevez’s upcoming film The Public. At 45-years-old, she’s far too experienced to be doing lackluster schlock like this.
Union stars as Shaun Russell, a mother thrust into a difficult situation in lieu of the sudden death of her wealthy father. In the midst of grieving, Shaun must decide what to do with his beautiful mansion, complete with a state-of-the-art security system and more cameras than a Las Vegas casino. She takes her young children, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), with as she sorts out his belongings, but not long into their ostensibly ordinary visit do they find that the home has been under siege by a group of thugs hellbent on taking the old man’s $4 million fortune. The gang of four, led by Twilight‘s Billy Burke, are in search of the safe, and begin their hunt after they lock Shaun out of the home with her children still inside. It’s here where we see, yet again, the lengths a mother will go to protect her children.
You’ve seen this film before. We’ve all seen this film before. Whether or not you’ll be able to recall the name of those others films is the real debate. Breaking In is not terribly different from last year’s Kidnap but it is considerably less exciting than even that Halle Berry vehicle was in its peak moments of peril. With material like this, however, it’s important to note that script, while important, isn’t everything. This is why I’m sometimes lenient on films of this genre because it’s readily apparent from the first act that plausibility and realism are discarded fairly quickly in favor of plot conveniences; therein, critiquing the logic of the screenplay becomes too easy. But when one area slouches, there’s reason to believe (or hope) that quality control in other areas will aid in making the film successful. That is not the case with Breaking In. On top of McTeigue’s (V for Vendetta, The Raven) direction being indistinguishable from other generic potboilers, Toby Oliver’s dusk cinematography and Joseph Jett Sally’s editing do no favors in lifting this film up from the bowels of the home invasion genre.
The film’s editing often doesn’t appear in-sync, lacking rhythm when put to Johnny Klimek’s score. This is readily apparent during Shaun’s initial discovery that her house is under attack, to which she responds by throwing a wooden chair at a patio door to no avail. The synth that, I believe was supposed to come at the instant the chair collides with the glass-door, comes a second too late, serving as a belated thud and not a tool for a jump-scare. Klimek’s derivative instrumentation also does little to inspire suspense when it should. We have a premise where a mother’s kids are metaphorically stuck in a nest at the mercy of maniacal men and it’s as if we are watching a game of hide and seek in terms of the level of fear being conjured through aesthetics. This goes back to McTeigue’s pedestrian direction, which doesn’t attempt to mine this premise for anything visually seductive. It’s mostly rote, static shots with desperately little style whatsoever.
Breaking In is an example of unambitious filmmaking in a tired genre that already has enough throwaway films to keep even the most masochistic movie-fan occupied. The difference-maker is this one magically made it into theaters. Over the past several months, I’ve found myself being told that the reason “no one” goes to the movies anymore is because not only have home-streaming and television options gotten exponentially better, but films aren’t made with any heart or soul; they’re simply made for the money and stick around until the next big thing comes out the following week. I still disagree, but films like Breaking In really test my patience and my beliefs on a good day.