THE VAULT (2017)
Directed by Dan Bush
Banks are awful places aren’t they? Soul sucking, teeth grinding, head thumping pits of despair, where you wait a long time for the joys of doing paperwork and hearing about offers you can barely follow. So perfect setting for a horror movie. Well in Dan Bush’s latest (of The Signal fame) it’s not just the scene of a haunting, but also a heist.
It’s a sleepy bank, where between sips of their coffee the staff check the clock and deal with the same enquiries. Robbing it are the down on their luck sibling trio Vee (Manning), Leah (Eastwood) and Michael (Haze), plus some heavies. The team are soon rounded up, bagged and held at gunpoint, until the thieves get their hands on a measly amount. However, the initially timid manager Ed (Franco) tells them “the real money” is in a secret vault. In the basement. As they crack the door, unleashing evil, they figure maybe he wasn’t really trying to help them.
The splicing of genres is something that’s hard to judge. For instance, last year’s Don’t Breathe did an admirable job of turning a crime movie into a tense horror. Likewise, From Dusk Till Dawn did a great transition into camp vamp action from robbery. The Vault is not so successful. From the flashy intro, done to the tune of Crimson and Clover, it established a cool crime vibe. This aspect is fairly well handled, with slick visual polish and a real sense of peril and stress when the guns are first pulled. But as it goes on, Bush never seems to decide a) when to abandon this conceit and b) if this is a horror film with a crime or a crime film with ghosts.
This maybe sounds like a distinction without a difference, and the sort of pseudointellectual wank only a critic would say. Yet it’s hugely important when the threat has been escalated but there’s still a laid back rock soundtrack and the police are running in slow motion. Visually, and audibly, The Vault never really feels like a horror. Moreover, during the first half, when the tension should be growing, the forced jumps with specters simultaneously feel like a distraction and undermine the better executed robbery side. The later scary scenes also fall flat, with the threat being poorly characterised (which is frustrating as the design is really cool) and the occasional interference of heist tropes shatter the suspense. Basically The Vault is two genres pulling at the same cloth, ripping it with each tug. Neither side is necessarily done badly, and I bet Bush can make a good crime or horror film. He just hasn’t made a decent one to combine the two.
Furthermore, the script simply isn’t very interesting. The backing story is ok, but they aren’t really given much nuance. As such, a twist at the end has all the impact of hearing your great, great, great grandpa’s friend died of old age. Needless to say it’s disappointing considering it has the weight of A-lister James Franco, who looks thoroughly bored, and the wonderful Taryn Manning (who is the definite stand out). To be fair, the family dynamic gives the quieter scenes an emotional weight, often missing from the genre, and its novel to be on the side of the robbers. Yet writing this a day later I had to look up all of the character names.
Of course, the most important thing is whether or not it’s fun. And ultimately it is. Sure, it has numerous problems given above – but it’s also reasonably paced and, during its best bits, will thrill both crime and horror fans alike. It’s also fun to see Ed go from a position of weakness into strength and a couple of the scares are really well orchestrated. Yet I doubt it’ll be discussed, or even remembered, years from now. Still, visiting this bank is much better than the real thing.
THE VAULT is in cinemas and on iTunes & digital HD from 8th September.