Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Vault: Balaguero Goes from Horror to Capers

The Bank of Spain’s celebrated subterranean flooding vault has a reputation for impenetrability, but it has been breached twice by the Spanish entertainment industry. The first time came during the second season of Netflix’s Money Heist. This English-language co-production is the second. Shrewdly, the team of “salvagers” plans to use Spain’s 2010 World Cup run as a distraction (most Spaniards would gladly trade national treasure for a Cup), but surviving the flooding waters will still be quite a trick in Jaume Balaguero’s The Vault, which releases tomorrow in theaters and on-demand.

Walter Moreland went to great trouble and expense to “salvage” one of Sir Francis Drake old shipwrecks, but the Spanish authorities swoop in at the last minute to confiscate his booty. Drake plundered it from Spain and his ship sank in Spain’s waters, but the old scoundrel believes his sweat equity gives him a morally superior claim. The good news is they do not fully understand what they have yet. The bad news is the stashed it in the Bank of Spain’s underground vault.

For his crew, Moreland recruits his chameleon-like god-daughter, a former British special forces SCUBA daredevil, a local scrounger, and your all-purpose hacker, but he needs Thom Laybrick’s brain to solve his big technical problems, both the expected and the unforeseen. Fortunately, the genius university student needs a challenge to stave off boredom. He is also clearly interested in Lorraine, the master-of-disguise pickpocket.

Balaguero is best known for horror films like the
[REC] franchise and Sleep Tight, so it maybe figures that Vault gets considerably darker than the typical caper movie. There comes a point when things look ultra-grim for salvage team, but that helps distinguish it from the pack. The heist itself is also pretty impressive and the bank’s vault and subbasements look unusually big and cinematic.

Of course, Liam Cunningham is the ace up Balaguero’s sleeve. The grizzled character actor is as roguishly sly as ever as Moreland. It is the kind of role Cunningham does best—and he appears to be having a grand time doing it again (he must have enjoyed the ham and paella). Freddie Highmore feels a little too out of place as the fish-out-of-water Laybrick and Astrid Berges-Frisbey is a bit too reserved and standoffish to engage viewers to any significant extent. Unfortunately, Famke Janssen is wastefully underemployed as Moreland’s MI6 contact. However, Luis Tosar (the psycho in
Sleep Tight) adds a lot of earthy energy as Simon, Moreland’s salt of the earth fixer.

Despite the five credited screenwriters (that’s a lot of cooks in the script kitchen),
Vault gives us a pretty original caper-score. Balaguero nicely stages the twists and narrow escapes, but it probably would have been even more effective if the antagonist, the humorless security chief Gustavo, had been a bit more colorful. Regardless, it is bigger than the typical caper movie and a good deal of fun. Recommended for fans of the genre, The Vault releases tomorrow (3/26) in theaters and VOD.