'Breaking In' Tests A Mother's Resolve...And An Audience's Patience

By James Jay Edwards
Released: May 11, 2018
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A woman fights to protect her family during a home invasion.

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Film Review
Breaking In is about a woman named Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union from The Birth of a Nation) whose father dies unexpectedly. She is put in charge of his estate, so she takes her two kids, Jasmine (Acrimony's Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr from Black Panther), up to the family home to get it ready to sell. Unfortunately, a thug named Eddie (Billy Burke from Lights Out) wants something that's hidden inside the house, and he shows up with three of his goons (Richard Cabral from Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Levi Meaden from Pacific Rim: Uprising, and Mark Furze from "Home and Away") to retrieve it. When Shaun's family crosses paths with the criminals, the kids wind up trapped inside the fortified house with the intruders. And that's when Eddie learns just how far a mother will go to protect her children.

If that setup sounds a bit like Panic Room, that's because it is Panic Room. Directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, The Raven) from a script by Ryan Engle (Non-Stop, Rampage), Breaking In bears more than a passing resemblance to David Fincher's 2002 work, although it's a nastier, more violent movie. It's an action movie at heart, but it's surprisingly suspenseful, and the suspense is much more effective than the fighting; the anticipation of what might happen is more real than what the audience actually sees happen.

Breaking In, photo courtesy Universal Pictures, all rights reserved.

The tagline for Breaking In is "Payback is a Mother," and the movie never lets the audience forget that Shaun's sole motivation is saving her children, to the point of heavy-handed repetition. When Shaun's not saying it herself, the thugs are delivering lines like "she's not gonna leave her kids" or the children themselves are saying "mom will save us." We get the picture, she's a fierce mother defending her flock. Breaking In doesn't have to be so on-the-nose and obvious about it.

Shaun is a formidable foe for her antagonists, though. At the onset of the movie, she's just a regular mother whose past seems mysterious, but not scandalous. Once her kids are in danger, however, she becomes a ninja, with skills and strength that she didn't have before. She's confident to the point of arrogance, and while she expresses doubt and fear verbally, she does not show it at all while fighting. She's a lean mean kid-protecting machine. And Gabrielle Union plays her with the attitude of an action hero. It's an unlikely scenario, one that is unfortunately played too straight to be fun. It's not exploitative or campy, and that's the problem. Breaking In would be a better movie with its tongue in its cheek.

Breaking In, photo courtesy Universal Pictures, all rights reserved.

As you might have guessed, Breaking In requires the audience to suspend its disbelief a bit in order to get through it. It's a pretty far-fetched movie, full of improbable situations and impractical contrivances, with absolutely no concept of subtlety. Not only does Shaun turn into a fierce warrior, but the intruder played by Richard Cabral becomes a full-on slasher movie villain, masochistic, unrelenting, and seemingly invincible. This leads to a final showdown that goes all You're Next on the audience, only not nearly as self-aware. Breaking In is unintentionally silly to the point of exhaustion, and that silliness hinders the film on an artistic level, but it satisfies the audience's lust for blood nicely. One doesn't get the impression that mass carnage is in the movie's mission statement, though.
The score for Breaking In is a big part of what makes the film so suspenseful. The music was composed by Johnny Klimek (Cloud Atlas, One Hour Photo), and while it's not atonal or dissonant on an overt level, there's plenty of tension in the mostly electronic soundtrack. It's the type of score that manipulates the audience into being uncomfortable in a way that keeps them just as unsettled as the characters. The soundscape that Klimek creates is a one-trick pony at times, but it's a very effective trick. As far as the score goes, Breaking In doesn't try to fix anything that isn't broken.

Breaking In, photo courtesy Universal Pictures, all rights reserved.

Release Date
May 11, 2018
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