Loft-y Expectations

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Karl Urban

Karl Urban is the architect of the American remake of The Loft

In a case of don’t blink or you’ll miss it, a movie called The Loft appeared in theaters Super Bowl weekend and disappeared faster than the air in a deflating Patriots football. I was one of the few who actually saw the movie (through its first two weekends, it grossed a little over $5 million) and went in expecting the worst from a January release. I wound up being pleasantly surprised instead. The Loft isn’t a great movie, but, under my rating system, I would give it a B-.

I fully intended to do a mini-review of the movie on this blog and a standard review of the movie on Silver Screen Cinema. But when I did a bit of research, I found some quite surprising things, which prompted me instead to write this commentary. 

I found The Loft to be a slick, stylish, neo-noirish mystery about five married men who share a loft apartment and use it for extracurricular activities. One of them (Karl Urban) is an architect and a slick womanizer who made the apartment available to four of his buddies. The fun and games in the loft eventually go horribly awry when they discover a dead nude woman handcuffed to the bed in the apartment. The loft’s tenants and the audience spend most of the movie trying to figure out exactly who the woman is, how she died, and—if indeed, she was murdered—who did it. Since the five of them have the only keys to the apartment, they’re the only apparent suspects. 

While I was impressed with The Loft, most critics were not. The movie currently has a 13% Rotten Tomatoes score, with only four critics giving it any sort of a thumbs up. And, the negative reviews aren’t just bad, they’re vicious:

  • Tom Russo of the Boston Globe said it “plays like a script that ‘Storage Wars’ stumbled across in Joe Eszterhas’s old locker.” 
  • Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times called it a “dour hodgepodge of bad behavior, bald-faced misogyny and ping-ponging alliances, it’s more alienating than alluring.”
  • Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter begins to hit at the truth, “The Loft is the sort of subpar thriller that has not translated well to our shores. … Erotic thrillers are a time-tested genre, but this effort … is neither erotic nor thrilling.”
Matthias Schoenaerts

Matthias Schoenaerts played the same role in U.S. and Belgian versions of The Loft

The Loft is actually a remake of a 2008 Belgian (technically, Flemish) film entitled Loft that was the highest grossing Belgian film ever made. Almost 1.2 million people saw the movie, which is simply amazing considering that the entire population of Belgium is about six million. The version I saw is actually the third version of the film; a Dutch version, also titled Loft, was also made in 2010.

I’m well aware that American studios dumb down and ruin excellent foreign films, a prime example being George Sluizer‘s The Vanishing. But The Loft didn’t appear to me to be a film that had been tampered with in its American version. It had the same director, Erik Van Looy. It had the same slick look to it (see comparison trailers below of the three versions). It even featured one of the same actors, Matthias Schoenaerts, reprising his role from the original. 

Now, Sluizer also directed the American remake of The Vanishing. But, in that case, the movie was ruined by a tacked-on “happy” ending that eviscerated the impact of the original. Based on what I was able to find out, however, the American version of The Loft  was essentially, scene-for-scene, the same movie as the original, down to the Byzantine plot twists and the predominant visual image (in all three movies) of the dead, handcuffed nude woman in the bed.

 Belgium (2008)  Netherlands (2010)  United States (2015)

So, what went wrong? Why do foreign critics and audiences like The Loft (foreign critics and viewers alike who have seen both the Belgian and U.S. versions have had generally positive reviews of the remake) while American critics loathe it? In reading the reviews, the answer gradually struck me.

Simply put, the U.S. critics weren’t reviewing the movie that Van Looy made. Admittedly, some of their criticisms were valid. The dialogue is sometimes leaden, and the characters are somewhat stereotypical. But for the most part, American critics got it in their heads that this movie was supposed to be a sleazy, suspenseful morality tale about the wages of sin. As a result, they were disappointed: that there wasn’t suspense, that the characters weren’t likable, and that there was too much trickery. One critic in particular lamented

Imagine Billy Wilder’s The Apartment minus the humor and social commentary merged with Alfred Hitchcock via Danny Boyle a la Shallow Grave without either director’s panache or suspense mastery… and you’ve got The Loft, a lame excuse for a thriller which has been thoroughly defanged and downgraded in this wholly unnecessary U.S. remake. … With all this attention paid to his original effort, one imagines that The Loft would be a truly original and flawlessly executed edge of your seat experience. Instead, it’s a boring drone, a series of police interviews interspersed with pointless flashbacks and cloudy character setup. The script … doesn’t seem to understand the basics of the genre here. In order to feel a sense of dread about what’s about to happen, the audience has to have more information than the people onscreen. Here, no one knows anything, resulting in a feeling of disorientation that zaps the film of any and all excitement. Bill Gibron

No, it’s critics like Gibron who “don’t seem to understand the genre.” Van Looy didn’t make an updated Basic Instinct in a Billy Wilder setting. He made a mystery, along the lines of an Agatha Christie mystery, although with admittedly more tawdry subject matter.

Wentworth Miller

Wentworth Miller isn’t who he seems in The Loft

The Loft is a puzzle, pure and simple. No one solves jigsaw puzzles because they’re looking to admire great art. Similarly, no one should go into The Loft expecting fascinating characters or top notch suspense.

Anyone who has ever read Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Murder on the Orient Express (or seen Sidney Lumet’s film version of Express) will remember whodunit. They probably won’t remember anything else about the characters, but they’ll remember whodunit. Why? Because Christie’s goal wasn’t fine literature; it was creating a fine puzzle.

The Loft isn’t at the level of Christie’s plotting. but the movie is tricky. It employs numerous flashbacks, multiple red herrings, and about three false endings before the real one. Scenes are replayed with bits of extra information added the second time so we realize that our initial impressions weren’t right. What we think we know about each character (particularly the one played by Wentworth Miller) changes, sometimes from scene to scene. Some of it may or may not strictly be “fair.” But it is fun, if you’re in the mood for that type of gamesmanship. The Loft is a lesser version of The Usual Suspects.

Gibron and the other critics seem to have decided the type of movie they would have made based on The Loft’s premise and then panned the actual film for failing to live up to their own completely unwarranted expectations. Their logic is similar to going to see Schindler’s List expecting a comedy and then criticizing Steven Spielberg for not being funny.

You probably won’t have much of a chance to see The Loft in the theaters at this point. But you will have a chance to see it on video. And, if you like the type of tricky movie that’s filled with scenes like those in the following clip, do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll be glad you did.



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