Home invasion thrillers are something I’ve always really enjoyed, if only because home invasion was always one of my biggest fears as a child. This was exacerbated even more when I saw “The Strangers” in middle school, which royally screwed me up. My spark in these films was reignited this year with the spectacular sequel to “The Strangers,” “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” which found a way to stylishly reinvent the sub-genre of films. “Breaking In” is not like “The Strangers,” as there isn’t a random murderer involved, but motivated killers out to get something within the house. “Breaking In” is much more of a thriller than a horror film, but with star Gabrielle Union behind the project, it’s certainly an interesting and intriguing take on the genre.
Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) is a mother who recently lost her estranged father in a freak accident. Traveling to his secluded home outside of Chicago with her two children, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr) to clear out the house for sale, their trip is quickly cut short by a group of four armed men invading the home for a rumored safe that Shaun’s affluent father kept in the high-tech house. Led by mastermind Eddie (Billy Burke), but shaken up by sociopath Duncan (Richard Cabral), Shaun must save her captive children inside the fortress of a home before it’s too late.
Here’s the thing about “Breaking In”: you’ve seen it before. While this isn’t particularly surprising, it still doesn’t completely excuse it. The difference between the predictability in “Breaking In” as opposed to other Will Packer-produced thrillers that I’ve enjoyed like “No Good Deed” and “Obsessed” is that “Breaking In” is all over the place when it comes to tone. It’s not well-written or clever enough to be taken seriously, nor is it silly enough to have dumb fun with. It rests solely in the center of just a “meh” thriller. That being said, it’s not without its highlights.
Union is great in the film as Shaun. With the role seemingly built for her from the ground up, Union takes on the role with the force one would expect from a film like this, but the effect is still thrilling to watch when she’s in full force. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Union really turn it up in a film, and I enjoyed watching her return here. Burke is also a very good villain in the film. He’s written in a very cookie-cutter way, but Burke breathes a very dark and oddly magnetic life into the character that could’ve easily just been slept through or even ham-fisted by another actor. Together, Union and Burke elevate the film in its lead roles to beyond the unspectacular thriller it is.
Direction from James McTeigue is also not bad, though pretty unspectacular compared to his previous visual-heavy work on films such as “V for Vendetta” and “Ninja Assassin” (or even “Survivor,” if we’re being honest). It’s obvious he’s working with a much smaller budget here, and what he does is pretty and slick, but without anything clever to really go off of, the film falls rote pretty quickly.
The writing in the film is by-the-numbers, and most of the time it rests on a decent level of dialogue, straying into cheesy territory every now and then, but I’ve heard much worse dialogue in similar films. The issue is that the film goes in every direction you expect it to, even with the twists that the film throws at you in the final act, it’s pretty apparent that they’re coming, if only because they’re twists that have been done in other, better films.
“Breaking In” doesn’t really fall off until the final act. At only 88 minutes, “Breaking In” is short, but its final act feels like it could’ve cut 20 minutes off of it. Every time the film feels as if it’s coming to a close, the film throws another twist our way that prolongs the film’s runtime even further. There comes a point when the twists wear off just because there are so many that the film tries to throw at you that they aren’t special anymore. You reach a level of fatigue with the film come the final twist that you really don’t care what happens, and the final blow (so to speak) lacks any sort of payoff, both objectively and in context with the film’s bloated finale.
I honestly wish “Breaking In” was more ridiculous than it was, if only because I could’ve had more fun with it. The film exists in this strange limbo where it’s not legitimately good enough to be taken seriously, nor batshit crazy enough to truly elicit a lot of fun from the film. When you see the twists coming from a mile away, and they’re neither fun nor clever, it’s hard for me to really enjoy much of what’s going on. Union and Burke try to legitimize the film as much as they can, but without anything to truly work off of, their efforts become in vain, but no one else hams it up enough either to take it over-the-top. It’s all just…there.
The thing here is that, despite Union and Burke’s presence, “Breaking In” is just painfully ordinary. There’s nothing here apart from the performances that hasn’t been done a million times before, and even with a skilled director behind the camera, the film just can’t seem to get past the rote formula that comes with domestic thrillers such as this. I can’t discredit it for a lack of effort by any means, as the film at least tries to throw some curveballs into the equation, but all of them fall flat in the grand scheme of the structure of the film. As a thriller, it’s not very thrilling, and as a horror film, it’s not scary at all. Throw in a few jump scares, and take a wild guess how it ends and I guarantee you that you’ve already seen “Breaking In” before ever buying a ticket.
Directed by: James McTeigue
Starring: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Maeden, Jason George, Seth Carr, and Christa Miller.
Runtime: 88 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence, menace, bloody images, sexual references, and brief strong language.
Universal Pictures presents, a Will Packer Productions production, a Practical Pictures production, a James McTeigue film, “Breaking In”