A slick, easy bank heist quickly sours when four robbers discover their haul is a paltry seventy-thousand dollars. But when a desperate bank employee tips them off to an old vault holding more than six-million dollars, their luck seems too good to be true. Unfortunately for them, it is. Because this bank has a dark, twisted secret that’s about to be unleashed… in The Vault.
MASH UP, TONE DOWN
From director and co-writer Dan Bush, The Vault is one-part classic bank heist movie, one-part classic ghost story. And on the one hand, the mash-up of genres affords Bush numerous opportunities to freshen up what might have otherwise been either a tired, unoriginal bank heist movie or a tired, unoriginal ghost story. But on the other hand, Bush presents a movie that feels every bit as tired and worn out as it does unique and fresh.
For example: the movie opens with the heist itself, rather than spending any time at all on the lead up and planning of it. The first act or so of heist films are often preoccupied with showcasing how talented its characters are with a montage of various smaller jobs leading into the movie’s “big score,” how desperate one or more characters are to be in such a situation, and how the team comes together. But The Vault instead shows us all of this in the movie’s first twenty minutes. It’s slick, informative, and engaging every step of the way. It’s refreshing to seemingly get to the point so quick, especially since it allows more of the movie to focus on the characters as things spiral out of control.
However, we’ve seen this clever, impressively complicated plan play out before. Yes, it’s refreshing to open a movie with the big heist rather than save it for later. Yes, it’s clever writing and filmmaking to showcase the talents of the characters without rehashing events several time throughout. But it’s still the same generic plan seen in these sorts of movies. There’s the preemptive distraction of the police, the character who distracts security by causing a scene, and the characters who move the key pieces into place by manipulating the bank’s scheduled appointments.
In fact, the characters themselves are just as problematic. For as refreshingly professional and highly skilled they are–their plan is executed flawlessly, they’re cool and collected as possible, they’re not crazy, they’re not quick to blow up at the slightest hiccup. For all of that–for as great a performance actors like Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood give–the characters themselves are as generic as everything else. Manning is the feisty powder keg waiting to blow. Eastwood is the way too calm and in-control de facto leader. And Scott Haze is the pathetic loser who got them all in this mess with some large debt that can only be paid off with the crazy amount of money one can manage from a movie bank heist. Even James Franco’s Ed is the generic bank employee who helps out the thieves in the hope of getting them all out fast and in one piece. There are a few places where each actor gets a brief moment to shine, but such moments feel accidental for how rare they are.
GENERIC IS AS GENERIC DOES
And things only get worse as the movie goes from generic heist movie to generic, low-effort horror movie. The bank’s vault is haunted following a failed heist some thirty years earlier. And, of course, once the characters open the vault, the malicious spirits lurking in said vault do their best to punish the desperate, greedy criminals in weird, confusing, and violent ways. Lights are played with. Figures appear and disappear. Cameras fail to see what would-be victims see. Cheap jump scares pop up everywhere. If it’s been in a scary movie with ghosts, it shows up in The Vault. And if it hasn’t been done before, it’s not in The Vault either.
And then there’s the issue of how the first half of the film builds itself up as more of a character drama about a group of desperate people turned criminals. None of them want to be there. They’re all doing horrible things because they feel like they have no other choice. It’s all as if the movie is supposed to be some Twilight Zone-style morality play about giving into temptation and greed. Except The Vault has no moral to share. There is no ironic punishment. And while the group of thieves do get their just desserts, it plays out with all the depth of a thirty-minute episode of Tales from the Crypt stretched out to a movie three times as long.
But worst of all, nothing in the movie feels earned.
For one, the scary stuff simply isn’t all that scary. All the flickering lights and people wailing and standing and walking oddly in the dark is about as effective as a family-friendly haunted house. Those not accustomed to such cliches might get a bit more mileage from The Vault’s attempts at horror than those who actively seek out such things. But at the same time, I’m not sure anyone who isn’t looking for such things would want anything to do with The Vault to begin with.
More so, there’s no real tease or build up to any of the scary stuff. The movie simply and suddenly shifts from an otherwise normal bank heist to ghost story. And this shift might be forgivable if The Vault had also given us a group of characters we either hate enough to want to see punished by a bunch of angry ghosts or who we like enough with to want to see them get away with everything. Because in that case, the movie would be focused on providing twisted spectacle or tense, fun thrills. But the characters never earn your hate or sympathy. The spectacle is nonexistent. And there are no thrills because we ultimately don’t care about the characters one way or another. There is no divine punishment so much as just some really bad luck. Thus all the spooky supernatural stuff comes across as random, unnecessary, and ultimately pointless.
The Vault feels like it could have been either a fun, scary twist on the cliche bank heist flick. It feels like it could have been a legitimately compelling character drama about desperate thieves put in a dangerous position they’d rather not be in. But by trying to do both without enough time and material to flesh out either side of the equation, The Vault is neither. More so, The Vault is a bunch of missed opportunities and wasted ideas and performances. And because of that, it’s also a NO CHILL.