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Breathe (Film Review)

3 min read

Image: Signature Entertainment

With the looming threat of climate change, it seems as though the post-apocalyptic ecological disaster sub-genre is fertile ground for topical and relevant films, especially in terms of science fiction. The future is increasingly bleak and, as always, science fiction is at its best when it holds up a mirror to current events and indirectly shows what the consequences might be for humanity’s current path. Breathe makes a strong attempt to go down that road, but with somewhat mixed results. 

Breathe tells the story of a family, living in a world without breathable oxygen, holed up in a bunker of sorts with the means to generate their own breathable air. When his father passes away, Darius (Common) goes out into the world to try and bury him, leaving his wife Maya (Jennifer Hudson) and their daughter Zora (Quvenzhané Wallis) to continue in his absence, unsure if he will even return. After some time, a group of strangers arrive claiming to know Darius and looking for help which creates a tense standoff as the intentions of the interlopers become clearer. 

On paper, Breathe has everything it should need to be a classic. The cast is fantastic with Academy Award-winner Hudson in the central role alongside Wallis, who is an incredible talent in her own right. Adding Common into the mix, as well as Milla Jovovich and Sam Worthington, makes Breathe a showstopping movie — on paper anyway. Hudson and Wallis are tremendous throughout, creating a believable mother-daughter relationship which anchors the whole story. Common is wildly underutilised with his character being iced out of the plot very early on, which feels like a mistake. Worthington is menacing at points but falls into cartoonish villainy at others, while Jovovich puts in a solid, but not exactly memorable, performance. 

The narrative is lacking too. Breathe is a film with an interesting story to tell, but without satisfying pacing to achieve that aim. If anything, in a world where there aren’t enough ninety-minute films, Breathe could have done with being longer to explore the world a tad more. The inevitable twist in the tale is telegraphed from a mile away and story beats seem to be resolved far too simply, with minimal jeopardy. There are multiple logic holes in the actions of the characters, and everything happens far too quickly. Ironically, very little of the action is given time itself to breathe. 

In design terms, the sets look great but the characters don’t seem to have overcome much in terms of logistics beyond the lack of oxygen; something that they mostly deal with in a fairly workmanlike fashion. In a post-apocalyptic, ravaged landscape, resources and solutions are seemingly plentiful. Additionally, more action set pieces would have been welcome, but thankfully the relationship between Zora and Maya keeps things interesting. 

Breathe is neither a terrible film, nor a particularly good one. With an impressive cast, it should achieve more than it does, especially given the mine of possibilities thrown up by an intriguing and relevant concept. While it falls short of those aspirations, it has some enjoyable moments and a strong central relationship that makes the audience root for the protagonists, forging an emotional connection. It’s a shame that strength isn’t found in other aspects of the film. 

Breathe is available on Digital Platforms on May 20.