Marvin comes home from work deflated, having lost out on a promotion at work. But his arrival home reveals something much stranger is happening: his wife Laney and daughters are engaged in some witch-like ritual, which gives them a supernatural power to repel him.
They also tell him he is confined to the home from now on — reversing the age-old idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Marvin tries to escape, but soon he realizes he’s not the only one for whom hearth and home have gone awry.
Directed by Mitch Yapko and written by Mark Aznavourian, this dark horror-comedy tackles a hornet’s nest of ideas about gender, power, tradition and history, using its brand of surreal humor to poke fun at disintegrating traditional boundaries and roles and offer a dystopian view of what such upheaval could lead to.
The film begins sunnily enough, with bright, cheerful light and colors painting a picture of suburban normalcy. Yet in the way that Marvin’s tie is just a little too big, viewers can begin to sense something is askew when he discovers the corpse of an animal in the fridge.
From there, eccentric characters, outrageous plot points and an increasing sense of the world gone awry pile up, as the women confine men to the home due to how they’ve made a mess of the world. And while the storytelling “goes there,” as the saying goes, it is continually engaging, told with dynamic camerawork and editing. Viewers may go “WTF” as they watch, but it won’t be from lack of momentum.
Like the rest of the film, the performances are also heightened to exaggerated effect, blowing up the small, fleeting, perhaps unspeakable thoughts we have but know we shouldn’t say. None of these characters are relatable in the traditional sense, but they bring to the surface the ideas, attitudes and emotions that get covered up by the demands of civility — and existing power structures of life. When these structures blow up, all hell breaks loose.
“Breathe” will not be for everyone, and frankly, it’s a little bonkers. But it is committed to its premise and creative approach, executing it with excellent craftsmanship and a willingness to engage with volatile and controversial ideas. The unique aspect is its oddly balanced approach to those ideas. Marvin clearly means well and loves his wife and daughters — and for all his bewilderment and outrage at what they do, he never resorts to misogyny when he faces off against him.
But the anger and impatience of the women in the story are also real, and in key moments, those feelings are played sincerely. By the time we reach the film’s final, outrageous and haunting images, viewers may not be able to decide if the film is a darkly funny cautionary tale or a sardonic commentary on modern gender relations — or maybe, just a little bit of both.