Synopsis – A woman fights to protect her family during a home invasion.
My Take – Happy Mother’s Day Folks! And what can be better to spend a day at the cinema to watch a film about a mother dish out violence against four burglars who have taken her kids hostage, instead of just cooking meals and doing chores. While, the home invasion thriller have become a fairly rote little sub-genre over the years, there are filmmakers who are still trying to place a rather imaginative twist on the formula or simply just placing a strong focus on character to spin it into something we haven’t seen before. While films, like You’re Next, have managed to subvert the genre by presenting itself as a mix of dark comedy and horror, most films still fail to make the cut.
To be clear, this thriller directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) and written by Ryan Engle (Rampage, The Commuter), isn’t one of the innovative ones, instead it’s very by-the-numbers when it comes to its central conflict and execution. In fact, it’s like a stripped down version of director David Fincher’s Panic Room. While the film may not be pretty, punctuated by flashes of mild violence, or original, it sure is ruthlessly efficient and decently entertaining, with its fair amount of thrills. Running for just 88 minutes, the film is lean, occasionally and intentionally outrageous and always on the resourceful lead’s side, which does speak volumes for its lead actress, Gabrielle Union. The fact that director McTeigue‘s film sets out to gently thrill and largely succeeds is definitely in part to the commitment Union gives to her role. If not for her, this film might not be as enjoyable as it is.
The story follows Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union), who upon learning of the death of her estranged father (Damien Leake), decides to take her teenage daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and young son Glover (Seth Carr), and head to her family home at Lake Constance. As her father was under investigation for money laundering and tax evasion, being the next of kin, Shaun thinks selling the house off would be the best possible thing to do. However, upon reaching, they find out that her father had converted her childhood home into a veritable fortress with high security systems, cameras around every corner, making the place completely impenetrable.
As the family settles for the night, with Shaun awaiting the arrival of Maggie (Christa Miller), her realtor, to bring in the paperwork for her to sign, a team of crooks led by Eddie (Billy Burke), and consisting of the frosted-tipped and morally conflicted Sam (Levi Meaden), the psychotic Duncan (Richard Cabral) and the ex-military Peter (Mark Furze), break in to steal the $4 million sitting in the safe of the house. With Shaun locked out during the commotion, and the children are taken hostage, as a mother she is ready to do whatever measures necessary to get her children back even if it requires hunting one bad guy at a time.
The film has no grand pretensions, in the sense it is a decent thriller and could have been a whole lot worse. The film’s marketing pretty much tells us what to expect, with Burke making up for a pretty mean villain and Union the tough mother. As the action starts refreshingly early and really never lets up, the film is never boring or aggravating. It just simply fulfills its promise of providing a trope heavy, action-filled thriller with plenty of twists, even if we do see many of them coming, and then ends as a piece of digestible cinema. Yes, the film is filled with clichés and its often easy to see were the direction is heading, like when the home invasion is happening, Shaun trying to get help, then you get that visitor who shows up and nothing good happens from there, Shaun taking advantage of the home security system, cutting the power, and taking out one guy at a time.
Yet, stripped bare of its extraneous plotting and characterization, the film swiftly establishes the tense stand-off between intruders and a family in crisis, then delights in turning the tables on the aggressors in sweat-drenched skirmishes, all before the house’s compromised security system automatically alerts police to a burglary in progress. Here, director McTeague wastes no time and no plot space with boring details, because the film is packed to the gills with action, and engaged in a cat and mouse game. While thrillers can sometimes bend reality too much, here the film keeps its feet on the ground pretty well in the realism department. While there are slight stretches at times, director McTeague manages to keep the superhuman feats to a minimum, and all injuries rather debilitating. In addition, it’s very similar to the home team advantage, allowing knowledge of the property to contribute to her strengths of outwitting these dangerous men.
The script also pivots around the mother-daughter relationship of Union‘s homemaker and Alexus‘ feisty chip off the not-so-old block, emphasizing the power of women of all ages to stand tall and proud in a male-dominated arena, and we all know, not even four crudely sketched lunatics can sever that bond. However, the coolest thing by far here, is the setting. This house in the middle of the country is gorgeous and elaborate, lulling your sense of envy out to admire just how much one can do with real estate, interior design, and amazing technology and landscaping. Yet, to use that house as a massive chess board weapon is even cooler in my opinion.
The film is all about exploring the house and surrounding terrain, utilizing the knowledge of the manor to outwit the opponents and obtain the riches within. It’s the shadows and interconnected twists that really bring the suspense out, and open up the possibilities of what can happen next. Yet, despite all that the film is bogged down by its issues, namely its inconsistency in pacing. Despite its short run time, the film offers finds itself hitting a sluggish speed especially in the final acts, were the whole exposition ramps up and quickly fizzle out. Also talking about the thrills of the film, if you were expecting holding your breath moments, intense stand offs, close calls, and manners similar to a film like Don’t Breathe, then you’ll be probably bummed out. As the film contains comparatively low key threats, along with mild running and hiding as parts of the intensity.
Perhaps one of the most note-worthy aspect of the film is in its ability to present an ordinary African-American family without ever drawing attention to race or color, something which hasn’t always been the case in most mainstream Hollywood productions. Add to that the inspired casting of Union who is pitted against Burke and you’ll have a rather interesting, if not wholly original, battle of wits between the two protagonists. For her part, Gabrielle Union does a fantastic job in a role which was more than likely written with her in mind and proves more than capable of nailing her Liam Neeson/Bruce Willis inspired moment of save-your-family action stardom. In what is belatedly her first starring role in a major studio film after 20-odd years in the business, here she never succumbs to campy theatrics and puts in a strong and fairly believable turn as a determined and head-strong mother who will do anything to keep her family safe.
Billy Burke is also delightful as the level-headed villain. Seeing him get increasingly frustrated but never fly off the handle provides a great contrast to Union’s frantic but determined hero. The other crooks played by Levi Meaden, Richard Cabral and Mark Furze are also good. Ajiona Alexus is perfectly cast as her daughter Jasmine, Seth Carr (Black Panther) hits on all the annoying little brother notes. In cameos, Christa Miller and Jason George are alright. On the whole, ‘Breaking In‘ is a fairly predictable yet hugely watchable home-invasion thriller, anchored by the powerful performance of its lead actresses.
Directed – James McTeigue
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 88 minutes