A pregnant woman fears for her unborn child’s life if she doesn’t avenge a supernatural entity.
Horror film makers are a slick bunch of operators, friends. The trend of saddling the female lead with a vague mental illness not only throws the less wizened viewer an initial red herring, it justifies the “It’s all in your head” argument she’ll inevitably face. Spoiler Alert: It’s never all in her head.
Why is it always the women? Male protagonists rarely climb added psychological obstacles in genre flicks, one exception being Adrian Lyne’s masterful “Jacob’s Ladder.” In fact, heroines have been disabled by their creators in a plethora of differing ways, from blindness (see “Wait Until Dark” or “Jennifer 8”) to even paraplegia in the recent “Curse of Chucky,” a condition once reserved for resourceful pre-teen boys.
The latest supernatural thriller from “Little Murder” director Predrag Antonijevic, “Breaking at the Edge” makes no bones about the potential depths of its lead’s madness at the onset, giving her a history of institutionalization and a prescription for Lithium to quell vivid hallucinations. That’s about as bananas as a functioning individual can be. Despite this pointless trope and a few thematic missteps, “Breaking” (I desperately want to make an “Electric Boogaloo” joke) does so many things right that the moments where it goes spectacularly wrong are nearly overshadowed by the experience. Nearly.
The central nutjob in question this time around is Bianca (Brazilian actress Rebecca Da Costa, recently in “The Bag Man”), happily married to car salesman Ian and pregnant with their first child. Though I was never a fan of actor Milo Ventimiglia’s brooding crybaby Peter Petrelli on “Heroes,” he shines as the far-too-perfect hubby, drawing out the best moments from the occasionally questionable performance of Da Costa. Their shifting dynamic throughout is one of the many aspects “Breaking” executes effortlessly.
Estranged from his recently deceased father, Ian is surprised to learn that the estate has been left to him and brother Zach, portrayed in typical one-note fashion by Johnathon Schaech (teased by yours truly in the “7500” review). In his defense, the role is overwritten (or underwritten, depending on perspective) to the point of a high school bully stereotype. Also suffering from zero development in character concept is Brianne Davis (“Prom Night,” “Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2”) as Zach’s trashy girlfriend Lorena, despite a valiant effort to rise above her material. Their introduction, a terse dinner with Ian and Bianca after discovery of the inheritance, would try the patience of a Buddhist monk.
The paranormal aspect arrives in the form of ghost Sara (Logan Browning, one of 2007’s live-action “Bratz”), who implores Bianca to look into her disappearance. More factually, this vengeful spirit doesn’t dick around, terrorizing the mommy-to-be into action. In a clever conceit, the entity possesses a malevolent physical link to the unborn child, causing it harm in service of persuading Bianca to do her bidding. Sara is a frightening and constant presence throughout, appearing as both a pale corpse and seemingly alive individual from one moment to the next.
Rounding out the supporting cast is an underused Andi MacDowell as Bianca’s OB/GYN Dr. Ghozland, existing only to convey knowledge of her patient’s disturbed past. Also on board is Louis Gossett Jr., pushing 80 and still the best part of any production he’s graced, as Sara’s former landlord Floyd. You can’t help but smile when that dude’s onscreen. Gabriel Macht of television’s “Suits” adds surprising empathy to the slow-on-the-uptake Detective Williams. Circumstances force him to include Bianca as a possible suspect in the missing person investigation, but he never registers the accusatory demeanor a horror movie cop typically encompasses.
“Breaking” commits the almost damnable sin of posing a reveal an hour in that is presented as minor, yet completely connects every dot for anyone paying attention. This year’s “Find Me” made the same mistake, but failed to ramp up the intensity to compensate. Not the case here. Between Bianca’s visions of Sarah’s fate and the final confrontation she must face in order to put the girl’s relentless spirit to rest, the scenario plays out like a wild fever dream. It stretches credibility several times to arrive there (Why does it always take the police so much longer to arrive at a location than anyone else?), but pays off in spades.
The sure-handed direction of Antonijevic plays an enormous role in the marginal success “Breaking” achieves, aided in large part by cinematographer Steve Mason and the piano-infused score by Tony Morales and Edward Rogers. The amplification of specific sounds coupled with flashes of handheld photography creates a terrific air of dread in mundane moments, allowing the imagery to mirror Bianca’s crumbling psyche.
The fault, as it often is with pieces boasting higher ambitions than standard body count fare, lies in the screenplay by Nissar Modi. Written by director Jake Kennedy (“Penance”) and loosely based upon his award-winning short “We All Fall Down,” logic is quickly abandoned in favor of plot progression and unnecessary intrigue. Obvious examples of the extraneous are Zach and Lorena, who could have easily been omitted from the story altogether with little alteration. Sans the couple, the film’s silliest sequence would have to be nixed as well, again changing nothing of the outcome and serving only as an improvement on the whole.
Receiving a slightly reluctant pass for technical execution alone, “Breaking at the Edge” (formerly titled “The Edge of Sanity”) will hopefully garner Antonijevic further exposure and perhaps partner him with a script worthy of his artful, evolving style. It’s a creepy and atmospheric ride, this one. Just don’t be surprised if your eyes roll as often as they widen.