After V for Vendetta was a hit with critics and audiences, one would think that director James McTeigue was destined to have a strong career. Alas, it appears that he has settled into making uninspired genre fare. Films like Ninja Assassin and The Raven showed that, without The Wachowskis’s writing, he lacks the ability to make his work either memorable or distinct. He has decided to tackle an incredibly tired genre with this film: the home invasion thriller. This genre has plenty of great and terrible films to its name; for every Panic Room there is a Trespass. Breaking In is the new entry in this genre and it shows how these types of films can fail.
Shaun Russell (Gabrielle Union) is a woman whose father has recently died, she has inherited his house and is moving in with her kids, Jasmine (Ajionia Alexus) and Glover (Seth Carr). Whilst outside his home, she is attacked and chased into the woods and her children are kidnapped by the men who have broken in. They are led by Eddie (Billy Burke), who was aware that Shaun’s father was a master bank robber who left lots of money in a safe within the house. Shaun must get back into the house and save her children from the robbers.
There is a single interesting hook in how the positions of the protagonist and the robbers are switched around, with the protagonist breaking into the house and the robbers trying to keep her out. However, screenwriter Ryan Angle fails to make this idea interesting and relies on home invasion thriller tropes. I will not give them away for the sake of spoilers, but if you have seen one of these films in the past 10 years, this film won’t seem that unfamiliar to you.
Because of this, the story is incredibly boring and predictable. The slim 88-minute running time feels long, because much of the action involves characters sneaking around and running away, which quickly becomes repetitive and tiring. The fights are passable, but they hold no emotional weight and lack entertainment value, so they fail to add momentum; even the climax feels tacked on, as it involves a character who seemingly died returning for the sake of a final fight.
With Gabrielle Union being a producer, you would have thought her character would be memorable, but there is little interesting about her. Shaun is solely defined by wanting to protect her family and anything related to her relationship with her father is frustratingly underdeveloped. Union has nothing to work with and despite the advertising promising a tough action girl, it takes such a long time for her to take on that role that you wonder why she bothered to play this character.
Alexus and Carr are stuck in roles that force them to spout tired comedic and emotional banter with their mother and each other. The villains are also bland: Billy Burke looks bored and embarrassed, stoically threatening his men and Shaun but projecting no menace. The other two robbers are archetypes: one is the young guy who constantly says: “I didn’t sign up for this!”, the other is the tattooed Hispanic who is such a blatant psychopath that you wait for the moment that he will go haywire.
What makes the characters especially boring is the dreadful dialogue. Almost every line is either forced exposition or a blatant characterisation dump. A phone conversation between Shaun and her husband leaves no room for nuance, blatantly spelling out her backstory and their relationship. The other dialogue exchanges are just as rote, with on the nose lines like “Very impressive for a woman alone, trapped by strangers” and “Moms don’t run, not when their babies are trapped in the nest”.
The whole film feels incredibly cheap and small, despite Get Out’s Toby Oliver behind the camera. McTeigue forgets to make any of his shots stylistic or visually interesting, resulting in the night setting giving the film a dim and dark look that is unappealing. The opening sequence showing the father’s death is somewhat stylish, but shooting it in a city was a mistake, because it draws attention to the low budget and the limitations of the house setting which follows. There are also unnecessary moments of slow-motion and a final shot that stops before it can show something that would require proper production values.
Breaking In is exactly what you think it would be. I honestly wondered what the point of this film was, as there is nothing here that you have not seen in several other home invasion thrillers. The script is trite, the production is cheap and even as an action star vehicle for Gabrielle Union, it fails. James McTeigue really needs to do a film that shows why he still has a career, because with this film he has plumbed into the depths of straight-to-video talent filmmaking.