Everyone knows about big Hollywood releases like Batman v Superman and Zootopia. And many people are aware that the independent scene provides lower-budget, buzz-worthy titles like Everybody Wants Some!! and My Name is Doris, to cite two recent examples. What many folks do not know, however, is that there exists a thriving “micro-budget” filmmaking scene. The low cost/high utility nature of modern camera equipment and computer editing software — combined with a host of new video-on-demand platforms — means that anyone can make and distribute a movie for next to nothing. That’s awesome, but there’s also a downside: literally anyone can make and distribute a movie. What used to be “survival of the fittest” is now “everybody in the pool,” as every Tom, Dick, and Harry starts to live out a personal fantasy of becoming the next Quentin Tarantino.
That brings us to The Break-In, a micro-budget “found footage” indie, shot on an iPhone, that looks like it was made for less money than you probably have in your wallet right this minute.
Justin Doescher (who also wrote and directed) plays Jeff, a guy living in a nice townhouse with his pregnant girlfriend Melissa (Maggie Binkley). He inexplicably feels the need to record everything he does on his cell phone, including things no sane human being would bother capturing (mundane conversations, making his girlfriend iced coffee, etc.). The couple thinks someone might be casing their house to rob it. First, they notice a suspicious figure looming outside. Then their next-door neighbors get robbed. And that’s about all there is to The Break-In until the last six minutes, when the break-in actually occurs.
The Break-In is clearly patterned after Paranormal Activity — so much so that Oren Peli could consider yelling plagiarism. The film unashamedly replicates PA‘s visual style, from the time-and-date-stamped security footage, to the structure of every passing night bringing the perceived threat just a little closer, to the last-minute surprise plot twist, which, in this instance, any nincompoop will see coming a mile away. It should also be noted that the twist is handled with such incompetent staging that it becomes unintentionally hilarious.
There is a vast difference between this movie and the one it so obviously tries to emulate. The beauty of Paranormal Activity was that it created characters and told a story while appearing to do neither of those things. It only felt like hastily-assembled found footage. In reality, every scene was carefully designed to develop the relationship between its characters, Katie and Micah, and to tell the story of a malevolent entity slowly tightening its grasp on them. It worked because you could feel them becoming more helpless with every passing second. The Break-In, in contrast, is 98% meaningless conversations we don’t care about, held by people who do not interest us. Individual scenes do nothing to generate mounting suspense or comprise anything remotely resembling a plot. Waiting for something to happen becomes an exercise in arduousness.
Worst of all, as a filmmaker, Doescher doesn’t even play by his own rules. The Break-In is notable only for having what must be cinema’s first-ever found footage dream sequence. That’s right — Jeff’s camera captures something which the movie later tells us only happened in his mind. The movie’s already shaky pretense of being “real” is shattered in this moment. Video cameras record whatever is front of them, not how the person holding the camera perceives things.
It seems unfair to not find at least one nice thing to say about any movie, so here goes: Maggie Binkley gives an authentic, natural performance as Melissa. Beyond that, The Break-In is a classic example of a movie being made because the filmmakers had the means to, not because they had the inspiration.
The Break-In is available for streaming on Vimeo.