On occasion, a disarming bait-and-switch or about-face can really work in a movie’s favour, elevating the material and taking an already-decent product to a higher level; or, at the very least, begin to rescue something that has floundered. Takashi Miike’s memorable Audition begins life as something approaching a middle-aged rom-com and ends as a blisteringly visceral piece of horror; while Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk ‘til Dawn unforgettably stall-sets as a crime road movie and crescendos with vampires laying siege to a strip club. In the case of the latter, a decent-enough, if a touch forgettable, crime drama finds new life as a piece of rubbery-masked horror, and in the case of the former, an engrossing family drama takes you completely by surprise and leaves you shell-shocked.
When it works, it’s a neat trick to pull. When it doesn’t, as in the case of Dan Bush’s The Vault, a movie that has been struggling to find its voice and make any positive impression, begins to descend into the realm of outright pantomime.
The Vault kicks off with a dysfunctional pair of estranged sisters, played by Francesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning, and a couple of underling helpers carrying out a bank heist. Disappointed by the meagre haul of money in the bank’s principal vault, they are helpfully pointed in the direction of a second, subterranean vault, by James Franco’s calm-headed Assistant Manager. What should be a routine heist, if such a thing exists, begins to go horribly wrong as it becomes clear that some malevolent force is at work within the bank, preventing the burglars from making good with the loot.
You have to have some admiration for any film that attempts to blend a bank robbery with a haunted house story, trying to reconcile the twin aesthetics of The Killing and The Stone Tape. The problem is, when neither of those elements is realised particularly cogently or with any real flair, what you get is a two halves of two rubbish movies glued together around the outside of a bored-looking James Franco.
Manning makes a decent fist of playing up the crazy, bringing an element of unpredictability to the raid, but at no point do we really feel like best-laid plans are going to waste or that the wheels are really falling off anything. The criminals just seem to squabble and fail at the first sign of trouble. As a piece of crime cinema, The Vault seems to have all the forethought of a weekend break in Pyongyang and the intricacy of a snooker ball in a sock.
The sinister, supernatural elements never make up for the lack of earthly drama either. It’s pretty obvious from first sign of ghostly trouble what the eventual payoff will be, despite a very late attempt at a twist that’s waggled in your face like it’s the smartest thing ever. Restricted to a few, slight non-jump scares and without having a chance to build any real sense of fear, the hauntings feel, despite their integral place within the narrative, like a half-baked addition.
Franco’s face dominates the promotional material for this, but one suspects his contribution to the movie was wrapped up within a few days at most. It’s a small, if not fleeting, role that reinforces a sense of -straight-to-DVD-ness that that seems to linger over this honest, yet underwhelming, clash of genres.
Dir: Dan Bush
Scr: Dan Bush, Conal Byrne
Starring: James Franco, Taryn Manning, Francesca Eastwood
Prd: Tom Butterfield, Alex Cutler, Luke Daniels, Alan Pao
DOP: Andrew Shulkind
Music: Shaun Drew
Runtime: 91 minutes