Film Review: The Vault

Directed by: Dan Bush; Runtime: 91 minutes
Grade: D-

Plot twists can be a lot of fun to witness unfold, but they're far less enjoyable when there seems to be no purpose behind their place in the grander cinematic story. When details are revealed about the seeing of ghosts in The Sixth Sense, they're backed by the personal strife endured by the characters throughout; when the true nature of Nicole Kidman and her childrens' conditions are revealed in The Others, they're supported and deepened by her mother character's neuroses and obsessions. The most intriguing thing about The Vault, a hybrid of a bank heist caper and supernatural horror, lies in one of such twists near the very end of the film, telegraphed with similarly presumptuous grandeur in its reveal to that of its predecessors. What results is a mishmash of purposes that lacks proper tension or serious thrills, building to a reveal that doesn't have the necessary potency in its implications to support what happens beforehand.

The Vault begins as a standard bank robbery movie, with a plot orchestrated by sisters Vee (Taryn Manning) and Leah (Francesca Eastwood) to steal roughly a half-million dollars from an old local branch. Coupled with distractions down the street to keep the city's resources occupied, their plan goes off without much of a hitch, leading them toward the money contained within. When the continued safety of the banks' employees and customers comes under fire during the heist, a mustachioed bank employee (James Franco) indicates that there's another vault burrowed deeper in the bank, and he'll help the robbers access it if they double-down on a promise not to harm the others. They agree, but what isn't fully revealed to them is that the bank has a dark history, and supernatural dangers lurk deeper down in its bowels.

The Vault essentially plays out as two different movies with a clear separation point between ‘em: everything that happens before supernatural elements are introduced, and everything that happens after that ever-present variable shifts gears of the entire scenario. Vee and Leah's grand plan has several unnecessary moving parts that don't make a lot of sense, from Taryn Manning blowing up at a bank teller similar to how she conducts her maniacal character in Orange is the New Black to how Leah uses a job interview as a long con for occupying the manager-on-duty. Generic pulsating music adds the necessary amount of tension to the atmosphere as the thieves gain the upper hand against the people within, and everything plays out as if it's following a template of every other heist movie. While I can understand that the movie wants to get to the more intriguing paranormal aspects, the setup comes across as tedious and drains the film of effective buildup before the eeriness take shape.

With a largely stoic James Franco sporting a ‘stache as he pulls back the curtains on the bank's history, The Vault descends into paranormal suspense as the thieves brave the building's corridors in pursuit of a bigger payday. The script tries to lure the audience into caring about the rationale behind Vee and Leah's robbery -- Taryn Manning's brusqueness makes it impossible to, in any way, empathize with her character's irritation with her sister's flightiness; Francesca Eastwood's shrewder and world-weary presence comes closer, but lacks tangibility -- but it doesn't do enough to make those watching care about whether they survive, are captured, or get away with the money. Thus, once specters start to whittle away at their crew through both direct and indirect methods, the suspense falls flat with each splatter of blood or scream of terror; some industrious production design and camerawork deserves to be commended, so at least there's something visceral to grasp onto with the horror aspects of the story.

But yes, there's a twist in The Vault -- two, really, though one's mostly just an elongated carry-over of the other -- which recontextualizes what the viewer has observed since the beginning and attempts to give the story a little heft. It's the kind of "gotcha" revelation that works better as the punchline to a brief and creepy campfire tale, though, instead of the feature-length culmination of either the heist suspense or the growing supernatural tension. That the revelation is unoriginal isn't the biggest problem with what happens, as numerous other supernatural mysteries have effectively landed on highly similar twists involving the mortality of significant individuals. Instead, The Vault keeps whatever potential it had locked up because it tries to succeed at being two different stories, one right after the other, while placing emphasis on the wrong elements for deeper impact, resulting in a monotonous and muddled indie whose lack of care for structure makes one disinterested in the secrets it wants to tell.

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