For instance, we learn early on that the heist at the core of the film is being conducted to benefit Michael (Scott Haze), one of the would-be thieves, who has “pissed off the wrong people”. The brains of the operation are his sisters Leah (Francesca Eastwood) and Vee (Taryn Manning), who frequently clash due to Leah abandoning her siblings in the past. The ideas of family and repaying debt are commonly seen in heist films (see Hell or High Water for the former, Baby Driver for the latter), and there’s no inherent problem with THE VAULT reusing these conventions. However, Bush and his co-writer Conal Byrne never fully commit to exploring them, which often reduces their inclusion to a mere tool for exposition. At one point, Michael temporarily unties a hostage, and I assumed the scene would lead to the latter escaping, or calling for help, as you might expect in a heist film. Instead, he reveals the motivation behind the heist because he can.
The supernatural elements of the film clearly received greater levels of thought, which isn’t surprising given Bush’s filmography largely consists of horror. Some of the directorial choices and plot developments here will feel familiar, but without spoiling too much, the general emphasis on atmosphere over gore should please genre fans (although when they are used, the VFX and make-up are fine). It’s possible that this approach was influenced by a small budget, but I think overall Bush and Byrne simply recognised, as this review did earlier, that the strongest connection between heists and horror is their careful use of suspense. Indeed, capturing the feel of an escalating threat is what THE VAULT does best, as almost every scene in the film’s second half is permeated by another idea typical of both genres: something always goes wrong. Building on this, it seems like Bush’s goal here was to create a thriller in the most literal sense. As a result, the story is kept minimal and streamlined to maintain a tight pace. This was refreshing and even subversive at times, but often confusing; for instance, I could’ve used a deeper understanding of the bank layout in order to keep track of character movements.
Despite that issue, the cast are used effectively to convey the desired tension, especially Eastwood and Manning as the leads, even though their role in most later scenes is simply to react to their surroundings. Any casual viewer who has seen a trailer or poster for THE VAULT will likely only recognise James Franco, but thankfully, the film resists verging into 2014 Godzilla territory and framing its biggest star as its central attraction. Rather, fans of Franco will likely agree that his casting was a perfect choice, and his role suitably limited but critical (to say more would verge on spoiler territory). THE VAULT’s premise faces the dilemma of not belonging definitively to either of the genres it draws from. While this unusual combination is innately suspenseful, the film frequently seems to jettison the development of ideas in favour of coasting on tension. It’s quick and easy viewing that thriller fans will appreciate, but an unwillingness to fully engage with genre limits any wider appeal.
THE VAULT is now available through Eagle Entertainment.