Film Reviews

Netflix Review: The Vault Wastes A Pretty Good Idea for a Horror Movie. Also, James Franco Is In It, For Some Reason.

Back before the home video market imploded, we used to constantly see old, relatively obscure B-movies re-released with brand new covers hyping up the presence of a now-famous actor who, just like everyone else, clearly had to start somewhere. Sometimes they were indeed the star of the old movie, like Jim Carrey in Once Bitten. Often times, though, they were barely in it. Either way, somebody’s marketing department suddenly had a way to finally put their damn movie in the black.

So, you could almost be fooled into thinking history was repeating itself with The Vault, an indie heist-horror mashup which recently made its way to Netflix. They slapped James Franco’s face on the cover and gave him top billing, yet he’s but a barely engaged observer in what is actually Taryn Manning, Francesca Eastwood and Scott Haze’s movie.

The former two rather convincingly play bickering sisters forced to rob a bank to bail their brother, Haze, out of a financial hole and deadly debt to some bad people. When, by the halfway point of the movie, the more trigger-happy members of their team cause the robbery to go south, Franco emerges as a peace-seeking assistant manager who gives them access to a secret underground vault housing millions in exchange for a promise to not harm any more of the hostages. What they find in the vault, though, might just spell their doom, and the question of whether Franco knew what he was sending them into hangs over the rest of the story.

But this isn’t some old movie just finding the light of day because of a suddenly hot name in the cast (Franco just won a Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist, after all). No, this is just the kind of thing Franco does. He teaches literature courses at any college that’ll take him. He stars in big franchise horror movies like Alien: Covenant but only if his character dies in his very first minute, quick enough that most people don’t even know it’s him on screen. He makes a Lifetime movie just to see what that’s like and then does another one because the first one was so much fun. And he lends his name to an ultra indie like The Vault to help them get funding and then mostly sleepwalks his way through the movie.

It certainly fits Franco’s m.o. of valuing as many different kinds of work experiences as possible regardless of quality or mainstream appeal. In this case, though, I can see why he was drawn to this particular script from writer-director Dan Bush (The Signal). What he and co-writer Conal Byrne have come up with here is actually a pretty good idea for a movie: what if some desperate people suffered the misfortune of trying to rob a haunted bank? Moreover, the twist ending revolving around the true identity of Franco’s character is fairly clever.

It’s just that after a decent opening which plays to standard bank robbery tropes and rides on the back of Manning and Eastwood’s forceful performances The Vault never fully pulls off the switch to horror. The idea that the members of the team in the underground vault start seeing ghosts which don’t actually register on the security cam footage being watched by Manning and Eastwood is initially promising and quite effective.

However, the further the film turns toward horror the more the tension built up in the first half of the story gives way to confusingly shot and terribly acted sequences. It rings as a disappointment because while the film’s first half doesn’t exactly promise transcendent entertainment it does at least make a strong case that you’re in for some capably made, B-movie pulp. Instead, you’ll end up feeling as disconnected from the carnage as Franco’s largely emotionless bank manager.


You could do worse in the eternal search for something to watch on Netflix, but you could do a lot better. There’s at least a pretty good idea for a horror movie here, and Taryn Manning and Francesca Eastwood deserve to star in a movie that doesn’t need to have James Franco in it to get our attention.


What about you? Have you seen The Vault? Let me know in the comments.


  1. This film was marketed well on netflix. Netflix have got rid if their star reviews out of 5. Tbis means you have to take a chance based on the netflix summary of the film or research it on the web. Sometimes i research other times I feel lucky and go for gut. Like you said james franco is in it. Recent film so not cashing on his before he made it backlog. Anyway I love dusk till dawn. Its my favourite movoe. so figured this would be similar. Girl robbers too so progeessive abd easy on the eye. The only conclusion i can take from watching this is two things. This is more dusk till dawn 2 – texas blood money than dusk till dawn 1. 2ndly i watched a documentary about the decline of b movies and vhs. It pointed out to me how piracy and streaming have ended the b movies and independent snall movies where they relied on your trip to blockbusters to rent a big film but was seduced by the cover of a b movie and opted for that hit or miss choice. No good now except for the avid collector. I think netflix are trying to repair that with their marketing and recommendation tools. Rotten tomatoes is another killer. The Room would never have survived at launch had rotten tomatoes been prominent then. So as bad as this film was i get why franco was in it. Its a chance to play a dofferent role for him. One he can also phone in and one that has a sixth sense twist to at the end of it. He doesnt carry the film. That is down to the two female leads. It was ok film I guess but no way brilliant.

    1. ” It was ok film I guess but no way brilliant.”

      There’s a pull quote for the poster.

      But, yeah, you’re right. It’s ultimately ok. Not great. Not terrible. Just ok.

      “his film was marketed well on netflix.”

      That’s the only reason I watched/reviewed it. I actually encountered this movie on Vudu months ago, at which point I saw a couple of super negative user reviews, guessed it to be just another strange Franco experiment and stayed away. Then all of a sudden it’s in Netflix’s Trending section on their home page and everyone’s treating it like it’s some brand new movie. So, I had to check it out.

      Of course, my own personal history there probably speaks to exactly what you were talking about with the documentary arguing how the proliferation of and enhanced accessibility of quantified opinion has killed the B-Movie market. Then again, I also ultimately only watched this for the very same reason I would have watched some random B-Movie I might have encountered at Blockbuster back in the day: I was searching for something better and then came across an interesting cover with an big name actor’s face on the cover. When I first saw the cover (on Vudu) I thought better of it, but when I came back and saw it again (on Netflix) I bit the bullet and watched what turned out to be a perfectly enjoyable, though hardly memorable movie.

      1. I think it is a good thing that Netflix are doing trying to push some of the b movies of today. I seem to recall back i the day watching Killer Clowns from Out of Space and the original japanese Ring movies (1,2 and 0) before america junped on it. Also some police accademy knock offs or horror sequels some of which had a new twist to original formula for the better. I put it down to one reason. I wanted to find a film myself that was worthy of speaking about and recommending to others rather than one the Guardian recommended or Empire magazine. Unfortunately its like looking for treasure with a metal detector mostly finding empty cans and beer bottle lids but once in a while a true gem.

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