The Vault, starring James Franco (The Disaster Artist), Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld), Francesca Eastwood (Heroes Reborn) and Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), is a rather interesting mash-up of bank heist and horror. Directed by Dan Bush (The Signal), the film does most of what it sets out to do with technical competence, whilst some of its horror elements are rather creepy and unsettling. The problem for The Vault, however, is the fact that it never really immerses the viewer into its world, and thus it is never entirely convincing or captivating.
The reasons for this “at arm’s length” relationship between viewer and film is rather difficult to pin down initially: the acting talent is present, the writing is decent and the movie looks and sounds good. So what is missing? After much digging and soul-searching, the answer to this question is context.
We pick up the film inside a large bank, with Leah (Eastwood) applying for a teller position. Simultaneously, police detective Iger (Collins Jr.) pours booze into his coffee and flirts with a teller whilst making a deposit. Fire trucks scream by, Iger’s transaction is complete, and he sets off to check out what’s going on (we find out that a warehouse is burning a few blocks away). Shortly after his exit, a frustrated and rude customer, Vee (Manning), is whining at an elderly bank employee for charging unnecessary fees. All of this feels unconnected at first, then it all changes, and suddenly the bank staff and customers are face-to-face with a group of crazed robbers who appear to be standing on the edge of their collective sanity.
Ultimately, the purpose of the heist is to garner funds for Michael Dillon (Scott Haze, Child of God), who is fresh out of jail and has a serious debt to settle with some unsavoury types. He is flanked by his sisters (Eastwood and Manning), who don’t relate well with one another. The siblings also have muscle and a safe cracker in their posse. That all checks out, however the details and minutiae behind the main characters’ backstories is glossed over with a quick swipe, leaving the entire driving factor of the film (the heist, and the reasons for it) feeling hollow. This hollowness breeds something of a lack of empathy and care for the plot or the leads, and the film never really reconnects this fracture.
Franco plays a mysterious assistant manager, whose calm, almost robotic behaviours are in stark contrast to the panic that has washed over the remaining hostages. And then, finally, we have THE VAULT itself. The Assistant Manager informs the “baddies” that there is $6m dollars in an old vault downstairs. By this point, there have been sprinkles of furtive glances between staff and vague references to odd happenings at this bank, however it is never dealt with directly or clearly up until this point (which I feel is a good thing). So the safe cracker, accompanied by Vee, set about tackling the large vault door, and things for the “baddies” are about to get all kinds of messed up.
I didn’t hate this film, I just couldn’t get much past being “just OK” with it either. As mentioned earlier, some of the frights were good, and the acting chops are present in droves, I just never felt drawn in to this world, and therefore never had much in the way of feeling or concern for it. The film didn’t need to overstuff itself with needless background info, but it definitely needed a better framework with which to build upon.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10