Two estranged sisters hatch a scheme to rob a bank to save their brother. The heist begins smoothly, but mayhem soon ensues when the defiant manager sends them to a basement-level vault where something truly evil dwells.
We all had that one place either in our house or in our neighborhood that we all knew was haunted. Living in California my whole life, I never experienced the horror of a haunted basement or the demon possessed furnace like in Home Alone. But, we did have an old shed that was attached to our neighbor's garage and our laundry room that we all knew was the doorway to hell, or the home of some flesh eating monster that was just waiting for one of us to walk in and say its name: El Chamuco, La Chankla, La Llorona! It was a damp, dark, narrow sliver of red painted wood that was almost falling apart. It looked completely out of place. Neither of us, my parents or our neighbors knew who had built it, or why it was built. It was just, there. Not belonging to anyone or serving any real purpose other than being our parent's bad behavior deterrent. "If you don't clean up your room, I am going to call the monster that lives in that shed to come bite your feet at night." my mom would say. Or, "If you don't come here right now, when it gets dark, the monster will pull you into its home there in the shed and you'll have to live there in the dark forever." Now that I think about it, my mom was hardcore. But, those words wouldn't mean much if the shed itself wasn't terrifying even without the threats. The paint on its tattered wooden bones, a dark weathered red, cracked and chipped all over were like gaping wounds adorning its dilapidated skin. The entire shed had these wounds, except at the center, on the door, was a fluorescent white happy face which was spray painted at what the time (I was Five, of course) seemed like a man's height. No one knew who had spray painted it or why the rest of the shed was damaged but not that one spot. It had just been that way and we all knew it was evil. We lived in that house for over 20+ years, and in all those years, I don't think I can remember I or anyone I knew--neither friends or family--ever going in there for fear of stepping in and never coming out.
Intrinsically, we all fear what we don't understand. Whether its a haunted house or spray painted happy face on an old door, that fear is and always has been deep inside of us. Its familiar. Its almost as much a part of us as breathing. This is why the haunted house genre of movies are so effective and fun to watch. Yet, because of how familiar we are with ghosts, monsters and everything a haunted house entails, if a haunted house film is not done well or unique enough to hold our shrinking attention spans, that dark and scary house is a light switch away from being nothing at all. But, has anyone ever heard of a haunted heist movie? A haunted bank? A steel doored version of my dreaded wooden shed with the white painted face on it? Never! That is until The Vault scrolled our way on Netflix. Unfortunately, this is a hidden horror film that should have remained hidden.
The Vault, written and directed by Dan Bush, a B-Movie professional, had a real opportunity to do something great here. As I mentioned above, this is a horror film disguised as a heist film. The concept of a haunted vault from ghosts with mysterious pasts and the mystifying allure of the dark and foreboding vault had so much potential in my eyes. The end result however, is a convoluted mess of terrible editing, bad writing, telegraphed twists, and generic jump scares that totally let me down. It’s only really successful at being a horrifying waste of time and potential.
Let’s start with the actors in this film. This movie stars James Franco. Yes, that James Franco. Who was a deciding factor in choosing how I’d spend my Thursday night. Though his face is prominently plastered on basically all of the marketing materials for this movie, he’s really nothing more than just a glorified cameo. Or, at least, it felt that way. Though he is in the movie and his role is significant, he isn’t really given much to do. Most of his action occurs mostly in one room and he interacts with only a few of the film’s characters. A lot of the time, it really looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing there and certain scenes make it seem like he’s trying to go one way with the character, but then switches gears and goes in a different direction. At one instance seeming like a gentle cooperating bystander and in another, he is a conniving manipulator trying to pit the two main antagonists against each other. The performance is definitely schizophrenic and his inclusion as a major part of the film is very deceiving.
We also have the bank robbing family led by Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood as Vee and Leah Dillon respectively. The more recognizable of the two is Taryn Manning, who many might remember from Hustle and Flow and Orange is the New Black. She turns in a serviceable performance as the hot-headed Dillon sister, but nothing really special. She commands the screen with her sudden outbursts of rage and impulsiveness, but it never goes past the sudden shock of her violence and overall defiance. She plays the role of the “fallen on hard times”, “chip on my shoulder”, “how come I didn’t make it out like you”, character to unspectacular perfection. Francesca as Leah on the other hand, is calm and collected. She seems meticulous and in control. Again, another standard portrayal of typical heist film tropes executed with the same uninspired gusto that just end up being boring to watch. The characters and the writing are so bad here, that even at the end of the film I wasn’t sure who was related to each other and who wasn’t. It wasn’t until I looked up the plot for this review that that was made clear. Which is a shame, as fleshing out the sibling drama, motivations, and feelings towards one another could have made for some great tension and could have elevated the stakes as the vault and its mysteries within begin to stalk our anti-heroes.
This movie also star Clifton Collins, Jr. (Google the name, you’ve seen him before. He’s in everything.), who is typically a great character actor and can do a lot with minimal roles, is lost in this film entirely. We’re given subtle nods that he is a police detective; he might be an alcoholic and he might also be single, as he delivers one of the worst pick up lines in movie history. And, that’s all in the first 10 minutes of the movie. Then, he just disappears and isn’t really involved in anything that happens for the next hour or so. As a whole, the actors and supporting actors really didn’t add anything special to this film, including James Franco, who more often than not, does a pretty great job of putting a stamp of originality in most of his characters. However, this one might be the exception to the rule.
Again, the potential for this movie is so great! I really wish it could have done more with the material it had. It squandered the horror inducing benefits of its name: The Vault. It could have used the claustrophobic qualities of the vault and the atmospheric remnants of the abandoned bank in the basement. Instead, the vault, the basement, the ghosts themselves and their leader, with a white smiley face mask…just like my red door (!!!) were all misused and basically wasted.
I will say however, the costumes and designs of the ghosts were actually done pretty well. The ghost’s wore these tattered, blood soaked, burlap bags over their head that almost seemed grafted into their actual skin. It seemed as if the ghosts were becoming, or had become already, a part of the bewitched bank. That’s awesome. I wish I would have seen more of that, from a visual standpoint, and really pulled out a lot of gory visuals for us to feast our eyes on. And, the inclusion of the White Faced Man, though simple, was still quite creepy to look at. The blank white face with the permanent smile really played on the deranged nature of the ghoul and had this movie been better, it could have maybe spun off a few sequels with this ghost at the center of it all.
Also, the back story given to him and his ghastly minions, though not wholly original, was still a pretty solid foundation to build from to make a much better horror film than we received.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend you watch this movie. That isn’t even in the category of “so bad it’s entertaining.” It’s just bad. If you see it come up on Netflix, just let it pass you by. And, if you ever see a creepy white smiley face painted on a door...RUN.
Until next week.