The Loft (dir. Eric Van Looy)

Posted: February 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

“The Loft” presents a challenge for a reviewer for two reasons. The first is that the film has so many twists that writing a spoiler-free review while still giving a taste of what is good about the film is nearly impossible. The other challenge is in attempting to explain how the film can be both very enjoyable at the same time that it is, at many times, not a very good film at all. I am torn between grading my enjoyment of the film versus grading the actual quality of it. This is kind of bizarre.

The film is, at its core, a murder mystery. The identity of the killer, the identity of the victim, and the motive are all secrets to be revealed. The film gives us no shortage of suspects (for killer or victim) and produces enough reasonable red herrings to have you guessing while still, for the most part, playing fair. I suppose if I watched the film a few more times I could grasp onto events that are perhaps too coincidental or far-fetched, but while the film unfolded before me I felt that every twist and turn felt viable within the universe the world creates. You have to give credit where credit is due: it is nearly impossible to guess the specific circumstances of the murder and who the killer is. That alone is worth celebrating, as anyone who watches enough mystery films can usually guess a killer right off the back unless a film is purposefully unfair in giving the audience enough clues to guess things.

So what can be said of the plot? Well, five married men share a loft that was built into a building by one of them, an architect named Vincent (Karl Urban, who gives an uneven performance). They can each use it to take their mistresses or whomever to it to avoid credit cards bills for hotels and whatnot, and it becomes a secret oasis for debauchery. The other men are Chris (James Marsden), a psychiatrist; Luke (Wentworth Miller), a somewhat nerdy guy; Marty (a very funny Eric Stonestreet) the token fat guy comic relief who is a crude drunkard, and Phillip (Matthias Schoenaerts), half-brother of Chris and a drug addicted, violent man. Almost every character we meet in this film, either man or women, is a morally reprehensible person. The lack of likeable characters, and most of the characters being affluent to a certain extent, makes “The Loft” feel like a Bret Easton Ellis novel much of the time.

At the start of the film, Luke enters the loft to find a bloody, dead blonde handcuffed to the bed. he calls the other four men, and they attempt to figure out who could have had access to the loft to commit the murder, and who the blonde is. The film then follows a non-linear flashback structure to show how events came to pass and both build on and slowly explain mysteries.

I can’t say much more about the plot without giving anything away. Suffice it to say, I did enjoy the film as a mystery and enjoyed the twists and the various revelations as they are made. That being said, the film suffers from quite a few flaws. The biggest, I’d say, is an almost completely terrible first act. Almost every line of dialogue for the first 30 minutes is a dry, stilited, utilitarian tool for exposition. The information being delivered comes at such a fast clip that the actors, trying to perform both quickly and clearly to deliver the information, fail to do any “acting” or emoting beyond the most obvious and arch vocals and facial expressions. On top of that, the director, Erik Van Looy, tries a lot of weird tricks by setting his camera up at weird angles on people’s faces and letting the frame go in and out of focus in an attempt to build tension. It sometimes works, but is mostly distracting, and thankfully that style is abandoned by the second act. Also, there are some scenes where only two characters are talking to each other, and in an attempt to not make the scene so boring the characters are made to uselessly walk around and circle each other. People don’t do this in real life, but it’s common to see this in films because otherwise you’re left with a dry shot of two people standing a few feet apart discussing things with each other. The problem here is that Van Looy positions his camera for wide shots where the useless walking stands out as silly.

Also, we’re given two minor characters: one a business man (Graham Beckel), and one a city councilman (Ric Reitz) who seem to be the only businessman and politican in the city, and they are always seem together. It comes across as a bit silly and obvious to have a businessman and a poltician so in bed with each other that they are almost never seen in public without the other one. For a film that has, as one of its minor goals, a takedown of the affluent, this is more than a little on-the-nose.

Where the film is most interesting is in how it deals with certain gender politics. Issues of male fraternity and “guy code”, rape culture, sexism, and monogamy are given at least cursory examinations in the film. There’s also a small indictment of the “nice guy” and a boys-will-be-boys mentality. The film doesn’t exactly let women off the hook either, but by and large this is an anti-man film that rather interestingly gives at least give a cursory glance at gender issues going on today.

“The Loft” is a remake of a 2008 film from Belgium, made by the same director. I have not seen the original, but I would guess that it probably succeeds in the areas where this American version fails (such as some really bad dialogue, uneven acting, and a “six months later” epilogue that feels like a tacked on cop out). I blame most of this version’s flaws not on director Van Looy, but on English screenwriter Wesley Strick, as his dialogue stands out as awful for at least the first 30 minutes of the film. it does get better, but this film could have stood to have another writer come in to do a polish and smooth out the rough edges.

Look, I actually really enjoyed watching this film, but the very apparent and obvious flaws preclude me from giving the film a grade which reflects my enjoyment versus the actual quality of the work. As a result, I give the film a rather affectionate C+

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