A crowd-pleasing home invasion thriller.
The home invasion thriller is an ironic genre, if you think about it. In reality, strangers breaking into your house with violent intent would be one of the scariest things that could ever possibly happen to you. But in movies it’s frequently kinda silly, with people making terrible decisions just for the sake of the plot, and bad guys with elaborate motives like finding hidden safes filled with treasure. You know, like everyone has.
Lewis McTeague’s Breaking In manages to be a little bit of both. It’s an effective, exciting home invasion thriller which also suffers from some wonky storytelling, but not so much that it ruins the experience. Fortunately, it’s anchored by an excellent lead performance from Gabrielle Union, who confidently sells the harrowing reality of this scenario even when the screenplay falters.
Union plays Shaun, a mother of two, and herself the daughter of a recently deceased, disgraced millionaire. She takes her children – Jasmine (Ajiona Alexis) and Glover (Seth Carr) – to her father’s isolated, sprawling estate to clean up the place before they sell it. The house has one of the most sophisticated security systems imaginable, which would have been pretty useful if the invaders were outside the house. But they’re already inside by the time Shaun gets there, and soon they’ve kidnapped her children and locked her out.
Now, to save her kids, Shaun has to invade her own heavily fortified house. She’ll have to push herself to the physical and mental limit to save her family, and she has to do it in a short amount of time, because the thieves – Eddie (Billy Burke), Duncan (Richard Cabral) and Sam (Levi Meaden) – only have 90 minutes to find the loot and get out before the alarm kicks back in and the cops show up.
It’s an extremely contrived premise, basically just “Panic Room in Reverse,” but it’s still intriguing, and it consistently yields entertaining scenarios as Shaun concocts one scheme after another to save her kids. Some of her plans work, some of them backfire spectacularly. She’s clever, almost certainly cleverer than the typical audience member would be in her situation, but not so astonishingly brilliant that the movie ends too quickly, and the same could be said about the movie’s villains, who are likewise making everything up on the fly with mixed, but always dangerous results.
Still, it’s frustrating to see a movie that’s trying to be clever in every single scene, but built on a dumb foundation. The plot revolves around Shaun’s father hiding millions of dollars at his estate because the government would seize those assets if they knew about them. But if he owes the government that much money, they would have simply seized this giant house instead, so Shaun would never have needed to go there and none of this tragedy would ever have happened.
Even if we’re willing to let that slide, Breaking In still runs into the occasional logic problem. There’s a big side quest about Jasmine trying to find a lost cell phone to call for help, but then she gets distracted and neither she nor the movie ever gets back to it. Part of the fun of a film like this is watching the characters try to solve it like a puzzle box, so when they don’t put the pieces together in a way that makes sense, it’s distracting at best and annoying at worst.
But to the film’s credit, it’s fast-paced and suspenseful enough that it’s easy to overlook the storytelling inconsistencies and focus instead on the potent story of a mother doing everything in her power to save her children. Gabrielle Union is a captivating lead, vulnerable and threatening at the same time, and she sells this material as well as anyone possibly could. The movie pushes her and her character to the limit, and gives her the crowd-pleasing opportunity to assert her dominance over the men who try to control and threaten her life, and her family. It’s a hell of a good movie for Mother’s Day, that’s for sure.