When two sisters pull a bank heist to ease their family strife, they get far more than they bargained for after discovering that the seemingly abandoned and potentially lucrative underground vault hides some dark secrets in this supernatural crime thriller from the writer/director of ‘The Signal’.
In a bid to get in on the trend of genre mashups and hybrids, writer/director Dan Bush secures the services of James Franco and assembles a cast of young relative unknowns for a classic bank heist and hostage thriller, and combines it with a tense and violent supernatural horror flavoured with a touch of mystery in this quintessentially American modern B-movie indie.
Francesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning star as the ‘Dillon’ sisters, alongside their brother ‘Michael’ (Scott Haze), a dysfunctional family in crisis who stage a local bank robbery to cure their financial woes. But when heist turns into hostage crisis and the criminal siblings stand surrounded by a detective (Clifton Collins Jr.) and the local police, salvation comes in the form of a suspiciously helpful bank manager (James Franco) and the promise of great bounty in an old underground vault—only for promise to turn into horror when the sinister history of the bank is revived.
There’s no mistaking the fact that ‘The Vault’ is a small budget genre piece with exploitation film tendencies, and despite a brief crisis of identity where it unconvincingly flirts with being a tense family drama, or releases a whimper of a rebellious rallying cry against a systemic corruption—the film’s knows what it is and never truly veers away from the basic ‘heist gone wrong’ and ‘creepy bogeyman’ scenarios.
Try as it might to make an impression as either a crime thriller or a horror piece, ‘The Vault’ is severely hampered by both its narrative and execution, and the absence of creativity to make its limited resources impactful. Sure there is a measure of tension, some graphic violence and a few genuine scares here, but the key elements are poorly balanced within a narrative which feels like two underwritten central stories haphazardly thrown together—resulting in a film which is moderately gripping at best, but fails to build up and maintain real momentum or tension in during its short runtime.
The cast do their best with what they’re given, trying to make the human aspect and mini dysfunctional family drama element of the story stick, but with uninspired dialogue and an underwritten storyline there’s not enough to make for characters that you can invest in or care about what may ultimately happen to them—only James Franco as the mysterious bank manager who may not be all he seems, and Francesca Eastwood as the in-control sister and de-facto heist leader, deliver convincing enough performances with a measure of nuance.
Yet all would be forgiven and its shortcomings nullified if the film leveraged its simplicity and took advantage of its genre mix to grab the audience and really make them audience squirm, or conversely serve up some outrageous genre excess or even a bit of stylish camp—but ‘The Vault’ takes itself too seriously for that, instead not providing enough legitimate drama or terror to keep us gripped, and failing to find a creative way to frame it all . . . and without much style or production value to fall back on.
Ultimately ‘The Vault’ is an atmospheric indie genre hybrid with just about enough to hold your attention, but not to thrill or leave an impression. There’s just not enough boldness or creativity in the narrative, the performances or the execution to make this small budget cinematic experiment stick—and unlike some other indie filmmakers in recent years, Dan Bush isn’t able to turn a lack of resources into an advantage . . . this time anyway.
The Bottom Line…
Despite being a tense, simple and reasonably captivating little indie genre mashup with plenty of foreboding atmosphere, ‘The Vault’ never makes up for its lack of resources with a creative or gripping enough narrative, or the characters to hold it all together—leaving just about sufficient horrific incident and a taste of mystery with a final twist to make it a watchable effort . . . but a forgettable one too.
When the body of an unidentified murder victim shows up at their small-town morgue, a father & son team of coroners try to unravel the mystery of her gruesome fate—only to get caught up in a frightening fight for survival themselves in this tense horror from the director of ‘Trollhunter’.
Directed by André Øvredal and starring Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch and Olwen Catherine Kelly among others.