08th Sep2017

‘The Vault’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning, Scott Haze, James Franco, Clifton Collins Jr. | Written by Dan Bush, Conal Byrne | Directed by Dan Bush

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“The Town meets Sixth Sense,” they claim in the press blurb. Even if that were a good idea on paper, the result is a useless genre train crash with very little to satisfy fans of the heist thriller or the supernatural character study. In the end it manages to conjure a twist so dumb it makes the whole movie seem retrospectively worse – and that’s saying something.

Opening with the tried and trusted cliché of a desperate 911 call, The Vault is a rollercoaster ride of tired tropes. For a false dawn we get a reasonably tense, wordless opening sequence in which the pieces fall into play on the game board: a gang of robbers, led by Leah (Francesca Eastwood), gathering in a bank to make a right royal scene, culminating in a violent hold-up. Except they discover there’s only chump change in the main vault. Hope is lost.

Then the “assistant manager” Ed (James Franco) pipes up. He says there’s a secret vault in the basement. It’s ancient and easily breakable, and it contains untold riches. As the cops gather outside, the bickering bank robbers get to work on cracking the haunted old safe.

Haunted, you say? That’s right. Back in ’82, the story goes, a heist went wrong and a bad man in a mask slaughtered a bunch of innocents. Now they’re back, in the form of sackcloth-wearing zombie ghost people. The historic massacre, it transpires, is about to get its 35th anniversary party.

The Vault’s problems – mostly script-based – are apparent from the moment the characters start talking. The actual heist is like a shoutier version of Reservoir Dogs’ gun-pointing scene, and relations only decline from here. This must be the most unprofessional, pettiest gang of robbers ever committed to the screen. Leah’s sister Vee (Taryn Manning) and their brother Michael (Scott Haze) are along for the ride, and it’s like they’ve suddenly decided to go on a crime spree midway through a particularly argumentative family dinner.

The bad writing extends to the plot logic, too. For some reason, the police don’t make contact with the gang until 50 minutes into the film. (Sorry, there is a reason: an incongruent subplot about the cops apparently being in disarray. We’re told this by a security guard, but never shown.) And at one point Leah grills a bank teller about who called the police – even though Ed explained 30 minutes ago that the alarm had been tripped.

“I’m a hostage, just like you,” Leah says to one of her captives. It’s a dog of a line which looks ridiculous on paper and sounds worse in the movie. The main performances are all terrible, whether it’s Eastwood’s and Manning’s unconvincing attempts to look fierce, or perma-frowning Franco looking like he walked onto the wrong set. Only Clifton Collins Jr – as the main detective – emerges with pride intact; although he must have wondered why his character is developed at the start, only to be written out of the script until the epilogue.

Jumping between contrived drama and hackneyed scares, director Dan Bush shoots 75% of The Vault in bland close-up, always seeking the least opportune angle. Upstairs he captures the bleak fluorescent lighting of the modern office and successfully makes the film look like a TV sitcom about a bank (albeit without the laughs). Downstairs, the death scenes are obscured by flickering lights, awkward camerawork and scrappy editing.

Shaun Drew’s music starts as a fairly appealing blend of Brian Eno-esque drone-tension and bubbling synth, but ultimately resorts to relentless, overbearing string crescendos. It’s a bipolar score for a confused film: a mashup whose two halves hate each other and never coalesce.

You hear talk about the factory-made nature of big-budget Hollywood, but there’s a production line at the DTV end, too, and this is what it looks like: high concept yet overstuffed; hopelessly derivative; flavourless and characterless; ugly and asinine. Avoid it, like Franco and co should have avoided the script when it dropped on the doormat.

The Vault is in cinemas and on iTunes & digital HD from 8th September.

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