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Breathe (2024) Film Review: Forgotten in a Breath

Jennifer Hudson looks to her right wearing a transparent mask on her face in the film Breathe

Breathe (2024) brings in an interesting premise but isn’t interested in crafting anything memorable out of it, with disjoined emotional arcs and awkward acting.

Director: Stefon Bristol
Genre: Thriller, Dystopian
Run Time: 93′
US Release: April 26, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in select theaters and VOD

Jennifer Hudson insists on saying “frick” instead of “f***” while holding someone at gunpoint. That was probably the most immersion-breaking detail in the movie.

Directed by Stefon Bristol, Breathe takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where oxygen levels have dropped below habitable, forcing humans to scrounge for breathable air.

Maya (Jennifer Hudson, of Respect) lives with her daughter in an oxygenated bunker. However, when two survivors, Tess (Milla Jovovich, of Resident Evil) and Lucas (Sam Worthington, of Avatar), arrive at her doorstep asking for help, she refuses to trust them. Unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures, and things quickly turn ugly.

It is a simple yet fun premise, one that can very easily be used to build tension. The characters, when outside the bunker, are always in constant danger of suffocation. It makes every breath (hehe) they take feel valuable, and there’s always a sense of slow but sure danger when someone runs or talks too much and uses up air as a result. All the film had to do after that was use that tension into various scenarios with workable characters and Breathe would be a solid thriller.

Unfortunately, Breathe doesn’t seem too interested in using that cool premise for anything worthwhile, as the end product ends up being painfully forgettable. In such a scenario with a limited cast, the characters are always a conundrum. Thrillers usually don’t allow for too much development time character wise, as they’re designed more to keep the audience on their toes with tense scene after tense scene. But you cannot forgo character entirely, as if you do, the audience has no one to really root for or against.

Because of this, I didn’t want to condemn the film too much when the main shtick of this family of main characters is that they’re a family. I am sick of films thinking that a family being a family is enough to make the audience care, but again, there’s limited time for development in a thriller like this, so if it aims for just the baseline level of investment, I can work with that.

Milla Jovovich looks at the camera wearing a transparent mask on her face in the film Breathe
Milla Jovovich in the film Breathe (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

But what we have is something below that baseline. Zora and her daughter have almost no chemistry, and their performances are just flat out forgettable. Not to mention any conflict they have is either quickly swept aside, forgotten, or mentioned in about a minute’s worth of a scene during the climax, making their arcs feel incredibly disjointed. Just because you’re going for basic main characters, it doesn’t mean you can get away with being lazy with them, but that’s what this film feels like.

Things get even worse when we look at the antagonists, Tess and Lucas. At first, it seems we may have something interesting here, regarding the morality of these two. They are trying to break into Maya’s bunker, but they’re doing so out of desperation for survival rather than outright malice. The question of who to trust and who to pity in such a dire situation is compelling, and it’s what kept me somewhat entertained for the first half or so. However, without spoiling too much, the film drops that around the last third for a far simpler, and in my opinion far lazier, antagonist. It makes the setup from before feel rather wasted.

Not helping is the acting. Jennifer Hudson’s is nothing special, even if she still gets the job done. Milla Jovovich tries to bring some emotional vulnerability, and I admire that, after she was typecast as badass action hero for the past decade or so with the Resident Evil film series. But in practice, any scene she’s meant to be struggling with her feelings ends up looking like she forgot her lines and is desperately trying to remember them. Sam Worthington is even worse, as he just looks and acts like he’s drunk most of the time, even dipping into cartoonish levels.

One last issue I take is with the audio. I am not a filmmaking specialist, but I think someone on set should have realized that it would be very hard to hear characters’ dialogue when they’re almost constantly wearing oxygen masks and also breathing very heavily in between their words. So while the characters seem sincere in whatever they’re saying, I couldn’ hear any of it, and it’s something that actively took me out of the experience.

The issue with Breathe isn’t that it has many negatives. It’s that it has no real positives. I wasn’t outright hating anyone here, and there wasn’t really a moment that made me want to quit watching, other than bits towards the end. But if by chance I didn’t have to write this review and the power had gone out in the middle of the movie, I wouldn’t have lost sleep over it. While some might give this a pass because it isn’t offensively bad, if you ask me, making the audience disinterested instead of mad is far worse.

Breathe is now available to watch in select theaters and on demand.

Breathe (2024): Trailer (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
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