AVAILABLE ON VIMEO: NOW
RUNNING TIME: 72 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jeff Anderson and Melissa Joseph are engaged, have a baby on the way, and live in a townhouse next to their best friends, Steve and Lisa. They have been living the perfect life, until a string of robberies take place in their neighborhood. Each night Jeff and Melissa notice strange occurrences happening to and around their home, and they begin to fear that they’ll be next on the list….
The house my wife lived in as a child was once visited by a burglar while the whole family were asleep upstairs. Her father went downstairs and surprised the intruder, who was fumbling around in some drawers in the lounge. The person fled and nothing was taken. However, my wife is still affected by the experience, and gets really disturbed whenever we watch a slasher movie [which is too often] where the killer is in somebody’s house. From her point of view, it’s fine if Jason Voorhees can hack to death lots of campers, but if he invades a person’s house to kill someone who lives in it with whatever implement is to hand, then she often has to stop watching the film. Therefore, I have first hand experience of how terrifying the idea of having a burglar in your house can me, even if he doesn’t intend to actually cause you any harm. While there are countless movies with very dangerous folk invading houses, there aren’t that many which just play on the simple fear of burglary, which, as Melissa says several times in The Break-In , is a form of violation. But now we have one.
Justin Doescher’s directorial debut is, for the most part, a straight forward found footage flick, very reminiscent of the Paranormal Activity films, though of course there’s no supernatural activity going on, but if you really like those then you should enjoy The Break-In. Except for giving us the first found footage dream scene [honestly, I’m not joking], a bit which to me was almost jaw dropping and which I actually admire for its sheer gall, it doesn’t break any new ground stylistically, but it proves that the mixture of footage supposedly being taken from a phone and security camera footage can still just about work if done well, and parts of The Break-In are done well enough that in places it should properly scare. Some of the flaws in the movie are ones which are found in many of this type, notably why the main character should be constantly recording things. Jeff Anderson is initially just showing off his new phone, then says that he wants to make a documentary for their unborn child, though why that documentary would include lots of footage of Jeff, his fiancée Melissa, and their two friends and neighbours Steve and Lisa at dinner is anybody’s guess. And would a police detective really say that it’s a good idea that his interviews with Jeff are being filmed by Jeff because many crimes have been solved by somebody noticing a detail on filmed footage? This film also has an odd kind of sound effect similar to what you sometimes hear in these things, sounding like static, which works almost as a kind of score during the night time scenes, but which of course wouldn’t exist at all. It’s initially very distracting, but I barely noticed it towards the end, a sure sign that The Break-In was working at that point!
The story takes place over several nights in September, and what we see is police evidence from ‘Case #22394’. The first scene is actually the last in chronological terms, as two men are out walking [one of them filming of course] and come across police cars outside a house where ‘Something’ has obviously happened. One thing that struck me was how strong the digital photography was, the lights from the cars creating a huge visual impact after the minute or so of near-darkness that has begun the film. Anyway, we soon go back to the beginning, and will follow our main couple over the course of several days and nights, the exact dates appearing on screen as every new day begins. Jeff and Melissa seem to be extremely happy, but even here we’re informed that there’s been a robbery in the neighbourhood. Rather unusually, Jeff and Melissa live next door to their best friends Steven and Lisa, so at least we can enjoy four people on the screen for much of the time rather than just two. As expected, there’s lots of footage of the four just chatting, and – just as expected – there are times when it gets a little dull, especially when we join the couple on their first baby shopping expedition. The dialogue seems reasonably natural for most of the time, though Melissa almost drove me mad with her constant smiles and grins, actress Maggie Binkley perhaps overdoing her character’s happiness even when eerie things begin to happen.
And they begin to happen very early on. While you often have to wait a very long time for things to get exciting in films like this, The Break-In doesn’t do that. A light being shined by a window provides a nice little scare only ten or so minutes in, and, even if the film then settles into a repetitive format of creepy night time happenings interspersed with lengthy daytime chat, it has enough edge enough so that, when Jeff was opening the doors of a cupboard, I was preparing myself to jump. It’s all quite low key for much of the time but does chill at times. I found it odd that Jeff finding his watch missing was never mentioned again, and that Jeff tells ‘Detective Garcia’, investigating the burglaries, that he’s not going to tell Melissa that he’s been speaking to him, but a couple of scenes later it’s revealed that she knows anyway. It’s not spoiling things too much to reveal things do turn violent, there is an extremely suspenseful climax, that dream sequence [I kid you not – Jeff’s camera shows us something that is revealed as a dream], and then a twist which I didn’t see coming and certainly satisfied though it doesn’t give us all the answers to what’s been going on. Now I love my twists, and don’t understand why so many people find them irritating. I love to gasp and say to myself: “Oh, I see”. Whether you like the ending will depend on whether you like twists, really.
Considering that this is a found footage film, it’s surprising how little’ shakycam’ there is, making The Break-In one film in this genre that shouldn’t badly affect those who find the camera shaking about hard to take at times [I count myself in that category, though at least the technique is usually justifiable in found footage]. Compared to, say, the total rubbish that was The Gallows, which for long stretches barely felt like a movie at all, The Break-In is professionally made and the only thing that really galls is when the camera on the phone plays up and we can’t see a thing. If this happened a couple of times it might be believable but it occurs a great deal and it’s very odd. The script has a few strange details like the detective telling Jeff the name of a possible suspect before the man’s been questioned and charged. In fact several of Garcia’s scenes aren’t too believable. Aside from that though, the script really isn’t bad and the four leading characters do convince as real people with a few little character traits that are quite impressive considering that the cast aren’t exactly well known and, though I criticised her a bit earlier in this review, Maggie Binkley really pulls off her role fairly well overall considering that she’s never acted before.
Doescher, previously mainly an actor, also writes, produces, does the sound, photographs, does the visual effects, and edits The Break-In. Considering he wears so many hats, he’s done a solid job overall. While certain aspects don’t quite work and some things could have been improved on, he does seem to have a knack for creating creepy tension, a knowledge of what frightens, and how to employ that knowledge. The micro budgeted production is a cut above the usual rut of poorly made found footage efforts, if not quite noteworthy enough to be a stand-out. In fact, I think that, if given a slightly larger budget, he could rework the film, perhaps ditching the found footage angle, and expand on certain things, to good effect and create a minor classic. Commendably brief in length, I think it should work quite well if watched late at night in the dark. And there is no way on earth I would even dream of showing it to the wife.
Watch The Break-In here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thebreakinmovie