The American writer-director Dan Bush enjoyed cult success 10 years ago with The Signal, a clever media-studies-age fable about a mysterious transmission that converted suggestible viewers into bloodthirsty killers. It’s just possible he hit upon the idea for his latest while standing in line with that movie’s residual cheques. Why not do a film set entirely in a bank, perennial locus of low-level tension?
The result: The Vault (★★, 15 cert, 91 mins), a hokey horror-thriller in which tough-talking robbers called the Dillon sisters (Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood) storm Centurion Trust’s downtown branch, only to set off more than alarm bells.
That this isn’t another Dog Day Afternoon can be gleaned from the clanging hints dropped early on. One employee lets slip that the building might just be haunted; twitchy-eyed assistant manager James Franco seems unlikely to reassure anybody falling behind on their repayments. Bush clearly intends to tease us. Franco redirects the gang to the basement vault, thereby cueing fully 10 minutes of sweaty Dillon drilling, and even when the reinforced door finally creaks open, an unhelpful power surge plunges everybody into darkness.
In short, this movie does less to shred our nerves than it does to try our patience. It’s a shame that Bush resists the full-on monster movie we anticipate, because the path he does follow carries The Vault into that netherworld between the horror and thriller genres. Neither scary or nasty enough for one, nor smart enough for the other, the whole assumes the look of an idle thought that has no pay-off: the final half-hour proves anticlimactic, with Bush shamelessly borrowing one late reveal from two prominent Nineties hits.
The ragtag players, at least, approximate the mixed crowd trying not to look too overdrawn or otherwise suspicious in the lobby of your high-street HSBC. Franco, thankfully, looks to have reverted back from annoying the planet to acting, and this does feel like a breakthrough of sorts for the fierce-ferocious Eastwood, previously best known as a model, reality star and daughter of Clint. Her resemblance to her mother, the actress Frances Fisher, is properly spooky; the yarn rattling away around her like loose change is, regrettably, altogether less haunting.
The Vault is in cinemas and on iTunes and digital HD from September 8
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