"Breaking In" Review: Payback is A Mother

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If your kids were trapped inside a house with criminals, would you fight to get to them? That question is answered by the lead in James McTeigue’s Breaking In. She answers with a resounding yes!

Gabrielle Union is Shaun Russell. Her father recently passed and she takes her kids with her to his secluded vacation home to get it ready for sale. Little do they know, four men are already in the house on a mission of their own to steal money from a safe inside. The home is heavily fortified with a security system, cameras in every room, and one remote that controls it all.

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What happens next is both formulaic and unconventional. Rather than falling into the usual traps of a damsel in distress, Shaun thinks through her options and slowly works her way to a resolution. Writer Ryan Engle gives us a strong female lead in Shaun and Gabrielle Union deserves a lot of credit in her portrayal of this mother. She’s not a woman scorned as you may think from some of the sound bites of the trailer. Instead, she’s just a woman with baggage. That baggage is never fully explained, and it really doesn’t need to be, but its presence is there throughout the film’s running time. 

On the flip side, the criminals in this fit the bill for generic home invasion thrillers. You have Eddie (Billie Burke) the mastermind, Duncan (Richard Cabral) the psychopath amongst the thieves, Sam (Levi Meaden) the reluctant one, and Peter (Mark Furze) the tech genius. Eddie does a lot of mansplaining throughout the film. He not only tells his gang what to do, but how Shaun will think. In some ways he’s the embodiment of stereotypical thought as to what a woman or mother may do in this situation as we’ve been taught in cinema. In other ways it’s just irritating to hear his thoughts connecting each new development. 

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The film has a tight pace and gets started within the first ten minutes. There isn’t a ton of exposition and backstory as to what Shaun’s father did, why they’re estranged, etc. By getting into the action, preceded with some genuine moments with Shaun and her children, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr), we’re sucked into the story. There’s an internal clock built into the movie as the criminals have 90 minutes before the cops arrive, but it’s not used to the best of its ability. Regardless, the tension and suspense slowly build in a what would you do, yell at the screen sort of way due to the honesty of Union’s performance.

While the film does well in pacing and suspense, McTeigue seems to have trouble with his framing within the film. It doesn’t feel well thought out and translates to poor spatial awareness at times. You don’t know exactly where characters are in relation to each other. While he does do a good job of isolating characters within the frame (specifically Shaun and her kids are noticeably separated from one another once they are inside the house for the first time) creating a sense of that heightened feeling you get when you’re by yourself and hear a noise, when they do come together it can be jarring.

What keeps this film from being superb is that it doesn’t add anything new to the genre.  Films like The Purge and You’re Next brought something fresh to it that keeps you interested. Here, the film is a straightforward invasion thriller and therefore could be considered bland by many. Yet, the writing is driven by an authentic sense of a mother trying to protect and ensure the safety of her young. The crowd I saw it with was hooked into every moment of narrow escape, one-upping the bad guys, and fight Shaun has to give. The emotional strain was so high at one point they didn’t laugh during a scene that was clearly supposed to release the tension. But maybe that was due to the poor performance of the villain? Regardless, this is a good escape for 88 minutes of entertainment this weekend!

Rating: B-

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.