"The Vault" is a combination heist and horror picture; and it's the rare genre mash-up where each element's equally strong. Director Dan Bush and his screenwriting partner Conal Byrne start the film with a daylight robbery sequence so pulse-pounding that it's almost a shame when the masked monsters arrive.
James Franco has what amounts to an extended cameo as Ed, a bank manager aware of a deadly secret in his employer's basement. When siblings Leah, Vee and Michael Dillon (played by Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning and Scott Haze) show up late one afternoon with a crew of thugs, Ed steers the interlopers to the creep-infested underground.
Bush and Byrne (who previously made the brainy sci-fi exercise "The Reconstruction of William Zero") create an atmosphere of real and implied menace. The crooks come into the bank already cranky, after setting a nearby fire to keep emergency crews occupied — filling the soundtrack with unsettling distant sirens.
Once the filmmakers introduce their subterranean maniacs, they pivot too slowly from crime to supernatural thrills. Still, this picture's uniformly well-acted and well-directed, with an emphasis on intense, intimate interactions between the bank staff and the folks taking them hostage.
"The Vault" lacks a larger point, but from moment to moment it's a gripping mystery, punctuated by gory violence. The plot may swing as wildly as it does because Bush and Byrne were extemporizing. But when one set of villains is stalking another in a pitch-black bunker, viewers should be too on edge to care much about how they got there.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills; Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood