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Loft, The

Universal // R // May 26, 2015
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted June 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Five reasonably wealthy, married men decide to pool their resources together and invest in a single swanky apartment for all their extramarital trysts. What could possibly go wrong with that scenario? Any number of practical things, naturally, but a bloody dead woman randomly showing up in their bed one morning probably isn't at the top of that list. Remaking his own quasi-erotic thriller, Belgian director Erik Van Looy brings The Loft to American audiences with a handsome arrangement of new faces for the promiscuous husbands, including Dr. "Bones" McCoy from the recent Star Trek reboot and Cyclops from the X-Men franchise. None of the talent involved nor director Van Looy's stylish cinematic perspective can prevent this whodunit from getting bled dry of any semblance of legitimacy, though, driven by unnatural suspiciousness towards the guilt of all the detestable guys involved and weighed down by continuously awkward scripting, exacerbating further as the curtain's pulled back on what really happened.

Following a shot of a man plummeting to his death from the upper floors of a high-rise building, something that'll eventually come into focus later on, The Loft jumps back in time to a point where one of the bespectacled owners of an apartment there, Luke (Wentworth Miller), discovers the bloody body of a young blonde woman cuffed to the space's bed. He quickly notifies the other owners, who one by one arrive at the location and account for where they were the evening before, since they never bring one of their extramarital flings to their carnal haven without notification. Distrust and suspicion brews between them as the film retraces their steps back to the point where they all hesitantly agreed to chip in for the loft, an idea brewed up by Karl Urban's shifty glances and silver tongue as Vincent, the architect who designed the building itself. Telling the story of romances with prostitutes, violent altercations with guests, and general rowdiness while intoxicated, they all attempt to figure out which of them bears some responsibility for her death.

Strangely, every single one of the five guys acts distrustfully while talking the situation out in the apartment, and in trying to create red herrings and divert the audience's attention with their universal dubiousness, The Loft renders an artificial and repellent network of mystery between them. Strained delivery of exposition to get their stories straight doesn't really help, flatly emphasizing minor details about times, locations, and items in their conversation as if trying to check off as many covered-up script holes as possible. To compensate for the mechanical delivery of info, this huddle of actors telegraph broad, overdramatic performances that exaggerate their personality types: Rust and Bone's Matthias Schoenaerts dials up his intensity for a coked-up, abusive brute; Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet crassly fumbles his way through an alcoholic skirt-chasing buffoon; and the introverted, voyeuristic tendencies of Prison Break's Wentworth Miller try too hard to make Luke look like a closeted deviant.

It's a stunning loft, I'll give it that, a well-chosen setting for Van Looy to orchestrate something akin to a trashy Hitchcockian thriller, where most of the film's tension builds through showy neo-noirish dialogue within the space and through flashbacks during the guys' recollections. The Drop cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis explores vertigo-inducing angles and claustrophobic close-ups as the characters cover their tracks, which visually reflects how this contemporary "oasis" atmosphere has begun to spin out of their control. So, too, does logic spin out of Van Looy's control, though, marred by supremely obtuse decisions made by the loft's owners and the ways that the break their own codes of conduct, flawed as they already were. The ways in which their keys escape into the wild, crime-scene artifacts get messily handled, even select events being recorded (and not) create an unintentionally amusing series of really doubtful revelations, concealing just enough info to hide the truths of the blonde woman's identity and murder.

Even with doses of limp eroticism, mounting motives, and James Marsden doing his damndest to look the part of a hangdog protagonist embroiled in a sympathetic affair, following the many convoluted details of The Loft becomes a real drag due to its strained credibility and the general disdain it builds towards the five guys. Eventually, whatever curiosity Van Looy builds around the "how" and the "why" of the murder caves into its deliberate obscuring of details, transforming instead into frustrated anticipation of discovering who's responsible and getting it over with. Unexpected as they may be, the answers arrives in the form of a long series of convoluted twists that become more and more problematic with each one, a vigorous but absurd falling of dominoes that leans on the film's nonlinear and secretive tricks like a crutch. If The Loft succeeds in anything, intentional or not, it's in shifting the attitude towards the person whose body slams into a car at the beginning: instead of mere curiosity about their identity, the film makes one actively hope that it's any number of these halfwits.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Say what you will about The Loft itself, but Erik Van Looy commands a fierce, economical presence through a chic perspective on the downtown loft and highly-expressive camerawork in close-ups of his stars. On raw style alone, the film would be attractive to look at, and Universal's 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC digital transfer does as much as it can to accentuate the necessary details. Facial stubble and strands of hair, skin pores and creases, and the stripes on dress shirts and suits leap from the intimately-captured images throughout, backed by natural skin tones and dashes of color in eyes and garments. The sharp lines of the loft's design are largely stable and display some solidly-presented geometry, while the cinematography's fluctuating focus levels render nice moments of details coming into focus. Contrast largely projects a fine grasp on elegant lighting, though deeper black levels tend to crush out elements within, and some visible noise occasionally intrudes on details. Beyond that, the cinematography looks pretty darn good.

There are a few exceptions, but most of the activity in this DTS-HD Master Audio track originate in the front channels, unsurprisingly driven by dialogue and a few scattered sound effects. Verbal clarity sounds fine enough for a modern thriller, with organic depth in the men's' voices and alluring mid-range buoyancy for the women's. A few sound effects test the track's capability to deliver clear details -- the shattering of a hurled glass again the back of a bar, the splashing of pool water, and the bustle of busy city streets -- which lightly travel to the rear channels for something dynamic, immersive, and with some punch. Mostly, however, it's all about the spoken content coexisting with the insistent music, which it does without any audibility issues or distortion. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.

Special Features:

Nothing, not even a trailer. Unless you want to count the DVD Copy and the Ultraviolet Digital Copy slip.

Final Thoughts:

Kinda like a fusion of Very Bad Things and Rope without the deliberate humor or Hitch's macabre charm, The Loft spins a web of murder and scheming that's frustratingly unconvincing and difficult to enjoy. That's largely because of its maddeningly unlikable batch of suit-wearing dudes, both because of their attitudes and because of the bewildering decisions they make. The film's twisty and chaotic enough, sure, especially in its final act, and you're not likely to guess what's going to happen once all's said and done. There's a tricky space between surprising the audience and relying on preposterous developments, though, and that's ultimately where the film's many problem areas lie. Universal delivers strong audiovisual properties for their bareboned Blu-ray release, but this is a murder mystery best overlooked. Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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