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There are plenty of genres that can successfully conjoin with horror to make some entertaining movies. Gritty crime capers can sometimes cleverly bolt onto the supernatural or the extreme, and provide box-office and critical success. One example is the Robert Rodriguez original version “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996), which starts as a gritty Tarantino-flavoured crime drama, before flicking the switch and becoming a bat-shit crazy vampire blood-fest. Even last year’s massively popular “Don’t Breathe” starts as a normal burglary attempt, before it becomes a nail-biting excursion into wrongness and violence. So the combination of a bank-heist and the otherworldly should make for an interesting experience, no? That’s the premise behind “The Vault”, which is directed by Dan Bush who also co-wrote/co-directed the warped genre anthology “The Signal” in 2007. The film stars James Franco who was recently (nearly) in “Alien: Covenant”, and we can’t wait to see in the Tommy Wiseau biopic “The Disaster Artist”. It also features Francesca Eastwood (daughter of Clint of course), who was in “Final Girl” and more recently the “Twin Peaks” revival. Now available on DVD/VOD in the UK, YGROY locks up our troubles and takes in viewing…

It starts with a whispered and panicky 9-1-1 call, telling of a bank-heist with hostages. Then the credits sequence runs, which hints of bloody past/present/future acts of violence. Into the story proper and we’re at the Centurion City Bank. A large fire in a warehouse downtown has local services scrambling through the streets, but it’s 4:55 in the bank and the assistant manager Ed Maas (Franco, curiously restrained all the way through) is eyeing the clock expectantly. Several late arrivals to the building include Leah (Eastwood) who is having an interview for a job with the manager (NB: At 4:55? WTF?). There’s also foul-mouthed complaint-merchant Vee (Taryn Manning), who’s kicking up a stink with some bouncy cheques. Unbeknownst to all those present, the two girls are sisters and have organised a methodical robbery of the bank with their brother and some other scumbags. They get the money but are blind-sided by the meagre amount in the safe. Ed then pipes up in an attempt to placate the gang, and tells them about the vault in the basement that apparently holds $6m in cash. Sold, the group head to the basement, but that old building has a bloody past and it’s not just money down there…

The annoying thing about “Vault” is what it gets right. It’s got a good cast giving decent performances and some cool ideas, but it just drops the ball when it really matters… and wanders about on the pitch looking for an exit. It feels like a 3-course meal that begins with a tasty starter, an interesting main course, but ends with a disappointing desert.

The opening segment is actually quite a gripping sequence that effectively introduces the main players and the situation in a believable manner. Vee is the sweary distraction, whilst Leah is pretty much the only cool-headed and pragmatic member of the team, who gravitates to being the natural leader. There’s realistic intimidation and a bloody wounding, and more importantly the crims feel threatening and dangerous. That section alone is quite cool as a straightforward heist drama that evokes memories of stuff like “The Town” or “Heat”, albeit on a MUCH lower budget and ambition.

Then hints are dropped about the slightly sinister reputation of the building. “It’s an old building. People get spooked”. That comes to the forefront with Ed pointing the group towards the eponymous room in the basement and the catalyst for the supernatural shenanigans. The shift towards the macabre is promising, especially with the involvement of bag-headed rasping figures and a strange white-faced individual. There’s a great moment where a thug counts his hostages and realises that there are more of them than there should be… Not to mention a gruesome driller-killing, and a couple of moments that feel like a cross between “The Purge”, “The Grudge”, and “The Strangers”. But unfortunately, they tend to be few and far between…

Rather than pour on a maelstrom of creepiness and/or multiple confrontations between two kinds of evil, the final act of the film just seems to lose all interest in itself. It’s pretty disappointing. There is a (slightly lame and guessable) twist of sorts, but on the whole the two genres just don’t join together in a cohesive narrative. There are plenty of holes in the logic of the plot that we can’t really go into for fear of spoilers, but it just doesn’t hang together. The source of the evil is “explained” by someone, but it doesn’t really make sense or hold water. At one point a character says that it was “the bank itself” that made a call to the police, and that raises hopes that it could be leading to a sentient haunted house story, sort of “The Amityville Bank” … but no such luck.

The cast themselves are actually pretty good. It’s one of Franco’s less showy roles and it doesn’t particularly stretch his abilities, but there’s still something appealing about the character. The best performance though is from Eastwood, who manages to give Leah a calm but intense quality that impresses. Manning and Q'orianka Kilcher (as a sympathetic teller) are also pretty good. But the actual screenplay is unadventurous and a little dull in places. Aside from Leah, you never feel like you connect with any of the main characters and some of the cast are just plain red-shirts.

It’s very much a game of three thirds, and it’s the lack-lustre final part that just lets everything else down. With the effective heist and horror set-ups, it should have all collided for a balls-to-the-wall finale. But instead it just meanders about with some half-hearted lengthy expositions and plenty of unanswered questions. It could have been a steal, but it ended up as daylight robbery. It’s probably not your vault…

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