By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Breaking In opens with Isaac (Damien Leake) dramatically sitting in his large walk-in closet before he puts on one of a number of very expensive-looking watches, plugging in earbuds, and going for a morning jog. He crosses a street, and is predictably and hilariously drilled by a vehicle coming out of nowhere.
Isaac is dead, leaving his estate to his daughter Shaun (Gabrielle Union). His main asset is a luxurious vacation home in Wisconsin, and Shaun needs to prepare it for sale. Shaun takes her kids Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) to the house to spend the night. The house itself is essentially a smart fortress–armed with high-tech reinforced windows and barriers to keep anyone out. Isaac, it turns out, was something of a paranoid criminal.
Shaun steps outside for a moment, distracted by a phone call, while Eddie (Billy Burke), Duncan (Richard Cabral), Peter (Mark Furze), and Sam (Levi Meaden) capture the kids and lock down the house. The men have been told that somewhere in the house is a safe containing the father’s liquidated assets—4 million in cash. And they’re working against the clock, since having cut the phone lines and security system, they only have 90 minutes before the police come (this is a plot beat that is not only stupid, but barely ever referenced again).
As Eddie remarks, Shaun will do anything to get her children back. She has to figure out how to break back into the house, outsmart the criminals, and save her children.
The concept of a home invasion thriller in which the heroine has to break back into an already-invaded home isn’t an altogether bad idea: the subgenre is never left wanting for films (for better or for worse), so it’s refreshing that a movie tries to flip things a bit. While Breaking In still follows the general blueprint of an ordinary family being victimized by bad men breaking into their house, the constant flipping of the power dynamic makes things moderately interesting. It helps too that the movie barely falls under 90 minutes. It understands how to not let a concept get spread too thin and is rarely boring.
I campaigned for the review of Breaking In because the trailer promised a campy, fun-bad thriller. In many respects, it delivers. The villains are mostly great: Richard Cabal’s Duncan in particular is a scowling, wide-eyed psychopath whose first idea is to murder the kids with his Crocodile Dundee-sized knife. I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to remember which punk band/CD shop I recognized Sam from, and Billy Burke as Eddie is either bored with the movie he’s in or bored with the two idiots he’s chosen to bring along with him. When it comes to these thieves, they’re just a couple of degrees off from being in a slapstick comedy. Eddie even yells “fricking” in one of the most hilariously tension-deflating scenes in the movie.
Elsewhere, Breaking In is just plain bad. That 90-minute time frame the villains have hardly factors into the movie after its initial mention, and Eddie’s apparent sinister calm suggests that he wouldn’t mind waiting all night to outsmart Shaun.
James McTeigue established himself as a filmmaker with a strong eye for visuals in V for Vendetta, but he’s since failed to recapture that same spark. At the beginning, Breaking In dabbles in visual foreshadowing as the characters walk the house, exploring the rooms and hallways of the high-tech fortress. This should be a way to establish a sense of place so that the audience can consistently keep track of where characters are and build suspense while the hunters and the hunted track each other. Sadly, the editing and framing don’t follow through. There’s no coherence to how the rooms are connected to each other, so cat-and-mouse sequences lose all suspense because it’s never clear where characters and rooms are in relation to each other.
As a director who has often reveled in graphic violence in his movies (particularly the gleefully gore-soaked Ninja Assassin), McTeigue is hamstrung into shooting nearly all of the deaths very quickly and incoherently. Combined with Eddie’s self-censorship earlier on, it almost feels like Breaking In was envisioned as a campy R-rated thriller and dialed back very early on to capitalize on Mother’s Day. What they didn’t dial back, and apparently didn’t count on hurting their demographic, was the numerous scenes in which Shaun is viciously attacked and beaten. And of course, nothing says Mother’s Day like trying to save your daughter from being assaulted by a psychotic Mexican convict.
It’s deeply frustrating how Breaking In settles between camp and drama, never tilting too far in either direction for too long and coming up short overall as a result.
The story itself is inherently rickety—if Shaun’s father liquidated his assets and stored them in a safe in the house to avoid them being seized, why wasn’t the house itself seized? There are also lines referencing leads from an assistant, suggesting abandoned plot threads leading to a more substantial background to the action, but it’s only surface-level here. Shaun’s husband (Jason George) is (in)conveniently stuck at work, though his comically large build would have made quick work of the villains. There really isn’t even any reason why Shaun had to take her stupid kids to this house anyway.
The movie just takes itself far too seriously, even as it’s surrounded by so much material ripe for being played for camp. It’s frustrating that it’s so close to being a madly bombastic reverse-Panic Room, but someone seemed to miss the opportunity.
Breaking In is bad in a lot of great ways, but worse in a lot of bad ones. It’s a bit more disappointing for connoisseurs of garbage cinema, particularly since it has many moments in the first act, and several others in the final one, that are just plain stupid fun. But it doesn’t commit to that wacky spirit and ends up feeling indecisive and unfocused. That’s almost worse than being generally mediocre, because it has so much promise as a camp classic, but falls short both there and as a legitimately entertaining thriller. That said, there’s enough of both elements to warrant a boozy rental, as long as you go in with tempered expectations.
Breaking In (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every element borrowed from another home invasion thriller
Do a Shot: whenever someone says “bitch”
Do a Shot: whenever someone says something unreasonably murder-y
Take a Drink: for every time the movie forgets about an earlier plot element