Running for a brief 88 minutes, the violent home invasion thriller with the generic title, Breaking In, wastes no time in establishing things.
Shaun (Gabrielle Union) is mom to daughter, Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and younger son, Glover (Seth Carr). We never know much about them, or where they live, or even what mom does for a living. All we know is that Shaun’s estranged father is dead and his considerably large, luxurious, and well protected estate, situated somewhere in the middle of the Wisconsin countryside, is ready to be sold.
There are references to dad having been something of a bad guy and how his home is probably the result of years of ill-gotten gains, but it’s never clear. We just accept that he was a ne’er-do-well. Shaun, who ran from dad’s parenting at the first opportunity, will now return to reap the benefits, once the real-estate agent sells the place. Shaun and the kids are there for the weekend to get things ready.
But the moment they enter the secluded property, there’s already the feel that something is definitely wrong. The security system is not functioning. Shaun puts it down to a probable power shortage. Her computer savvy son resets the alarms. Then there’s the garage door that’s slightly opened. Could be a result of that power issue; it happens. But the real give-away is the hand-held point-of-view shot that views the kids from across the room. They don’t know it, but we do: there’s someone in the house.
When Shaun steps outside to talk on her cell and order pizza, it all begins. There are four bad guys; three in the house, one outside. The kids are forcibly grabbed and locked away in a room upstairs. Mom is attacked while on the phone. But there’s one thing the burglars never considered. Like her departed father, Shaun is tough. A quick elbow slam and a stab to the chest from a piece of broken glass found on the concrete knocks her attacker to the ground. She drags him off into the woods and ties him up.
The leader of the foursome, Eddie (Billy Burke) looks irritated from the beginning. He thought the house would be empty. All that was required was to disable the security, find the safe, work out the combination, open it, then get out with $4 million of liquidated assets. The gang had ninety minutes in which to do it. That was the time given once the security system failure triggered the police. But now there are hostages, plus a missing burglar, and a determined mom on the loose. “She’s smart,” Eddie tells his men. “She knows how to handle herself.”
Things get violent as the minutes tick, particularly when Maggie (Christa Miller), the real-estate agent unexpectedly turns up and knocks on the door. Realizing what’s now at stake and how far these burglars are willing to go, Shaun becomes more resourceful with her attempts to rescue the kids. Violent Latino burglar (Richard Cabral) and the less than bright spark, Sam (Levi Meaden) think that Shaun has probably left the grounds to get help, but Eddie knows better. “Moms don’t run,” he tells them.
Little blood is spilled, but there are plenty of ugly threats, menace, and violence along the way as Shaun is pressured to act in a manner she presumably never knew she had in her. Though maybe she did. Near the final confrontation, she looks Eddie in the eye and states with a low, deliberate growl, “After tonight, it’s clear you have no clue what I’m capable of.” It’s one of those moments designed to get the Friday night multiplex crowd cheering. So is the moment when the huge knife is pulled and Shaun pauses long enough before the kill to declare to a burglar, “You broke into the wrong f***ing house!” At the press screening, the audience whooped and hollered. It’s that kind of film.
There’s no first or second act in Breaking In. The film goes straight for the climactic third after just a few concise moments of setup. It’s short, taut, and does exactly what you expect a home invasion thriller to do without bothering with any pesky time-consuming character details or backstory, plus there’s a no-nonsense, determined mom at its center. “You’re a woman alone at the mercy of strangers,” Eddie tells Shaun over a speaker, as if we needed an update on the story so far. But it’s clear it’s the strangers who should be doing the worrying.
Payback Is A Mother, declares the poster in ominous looking letters, larger than the actual title, intentionally positioned for a release to coincide with the American Mother’s Day weekend celebration. It’s a savvy marketing approach. But a word of advice. I wouldn’t take mom If I were you.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 88 minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)