Breaking In tells the story of Shaun (Gabrielle Union), a mother of two who is moving into her recently deceased father’s house. It turns out that there is a hidden safe somewhere in the enormous home. Sitting in that safe is $4 million. A team of crooks led by the cold-hearted Eddie (Billy Burke) break into the house but don’t expect anyone to be there. And when Shaun’s children are held captive, she takes whatever measures necessary to free them.
The home invasion thriller is a fairly rote little sub-genre. It takes either an imaginative twist on the formula or a strong focus on character to spin it into something we haven’t seen before. For example, The Purge is actually a pretty weak entry in the sub-genre but the grander world and social commentary of that film elevated it into something interesting. You’re Next subverted the genre by presenting itself as pure horror and actually turning into a black comedy of sorts.
All this is to say that Breaking In doesn’t quite manage to do anything like those other films. 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 David Fincher’s Panic Room. However, that does speak volumes for its lead actress, Gabrielle Union. The fact that Breaking In isn’t a familiar bore is definitely in part to the commitment Union gives to her role. If not for her, this movie might not be as enjoyable as it is.
Union isn’t the only one making this flick a surprisingly fun watch. Billy Burke is a delightfully 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 are entertaining but for somewhat ironic reasons. Their performances are heightened in a way that doesn’t quite jive with the more straightforward approach of the rest of the film. Still, they make the movie a pleasurable experience.
A Mixed Bag
Besides the actors, everything else in the film is a mishmash of good, bad, and confusing choices. The most glaring decision is in the film’s rating. This is a PG-13 film and it has clearly been modified to avoid an R-rating. As A Quiet Place proved, a PG-13 rating doesn’t mean that a film has to be completely neutered in regards to violence or intensity. Although, A Quiet Place was made with a specific intention when it came to its more extreme elements. Breaking In has certain cutaways from its violence that feel like a neutering instead of a directorial choice. Some of the violent beats still land, but they would have a little more punch if they were able to go all out.
But, its most obvious bit of self-censorship comes into play with language. There are two moments where a character says, “fricking” and it’s a blatant case of dubbing over a more offensive f-word. It’s a strange reversal that makes the film feel like a TV edit. It’s not a total distraction but it does pull you out of the movie for a bit.
There are other creative choices that both help and hurt the film. For example, the story kicks off right away with the death of Shaun’s father. Breaking In wastes no time getting the players to the stage and kicking off the premise. This is great for pacing but it comes at the cost of character development. We don’t get an appropriate amount of time with Shaun or her two children to care about them beyond a cursory concern. That hurts the impact of certain moments but doesn’t sink the film.
Is Breaking In Good?
A satisfactory if standard home invasion thriller, Breaking In is anchored by its lead actress but fails to take its premise and characters to the next level. This really is as connect-the-dots as you can get with this kind of movie. That isn’t always a negative aspect as it keeps the film chugging along, but it does hamper the movie’s ability to ever turn into something remotely special.
Even so, Breaking In is never boring or aggravating. It fulfills its simple purpose and then it’s over. For a piece of digestible cinema, Breaking In goes down easy but won’t come close to filling you up.