Red Herring’s (or, by definition, something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting) are a key component to any whodunit. When used well, they keep you guessing as you feverishly try to put the pieces together before the big reveal, which blows your mind because you never saw it coming even though the pieces were there. When done poorly, you either see the reveal coming a mile away, or the last act is a muddled, incomprehensible mess that makes everything that came before it completely pointless rather than gleeful trickery. The Loft relies heavily on red herrings to keep its narrative momentum moving, and though the end might come off a bit unsatisfying, none of them are wasted as the film stays mostly true to the characters its established.
Based on director Erik Van Looy’s own Belgium film, Loft, the American remake follows the events in the lives of five friends over a one-year period that ends in the death of a young woman. Leading the mostly stellar cast is Karl Urban as Vincent Stevens, the cocky, almost narcissistic ringleader behind the purchase of a penthouse apartment that will act as a haven for any “extracurricular activities” he and his buddies may want to keep secret from their respective wives. On the opposite side of the spectrum is James Marsden as Chris Vanowen, the last of the group to accept one of only five keys to the apartment due to his monogamous nature. Only when he meets the vixenous prostitute, Anne Morris (Rachael Taylor) does he succumb to his inner beast. His half brother, Philip Trauner (Matthias Schoenaerts, reprising his role from the original) is a psychotic cocaine-addict who treats women like they’re candy he pops from a Pez dispenser — except his little sister, Zoe (Dora Madison Burge), who he’ll kill any man over if they look at her the wrong way. His opposite comes in the form of Luke Seacord (Wentworth Miller), the quiet, possibly gay loner who takes a key, but never once uses it for any means other than a getaway from life itself. Rounding out the quintet is Eric Stonestreet, completely miscast as a callous lush. I’m not sure if it’s because of his flamboyant portrayal as Cam on Modern Family, but not once did I buy him as a brazen cad. Watching the five of them together, I kept thinking, “one of these things just isn’t the same.”
The biggest hurdle this film faces right from the jump is making these characters in any way likeable. After all, the premise needs them to be wretched filth for it to work. These are not people you would ever aspire to be, yet the film needs them to be someone you might want to go grab a beer with at the end of a long, hard day. And somehow, it manages to do just that — turn despicable men into charming rascals. Each actor (especially Karl Urban, who is already a master at it) add their own level of charisma that elevates them beyond simply deceitful liars and cheats. At the same time, the film doesn’t gloss over the plight of the wives who are being lied to and cheated on. For the most part, they aren’t your typical blind victims. They each know something is wrong, that their men are keeping secrets, but they don’t want to believe it, and try hard to give them the benefit of the doubt for as long as they possibly can before accusing the men they love of such disgraceful acts of betrayal. You are able to empathize with them so that when the men reach their eventual comeuppance, each are natural progressions in their relationships. On top of that, each of the ladies (and that includes the handful of mistresses) all have a distinct purpose, all of which are executed quite nicely (except for maybe Vincent’s wife, who’s storyline ends rather abruptly with no real closure).
But the movie isn’t just about these guys and their relationships; it’s about the mystery surrounding a woman found in a pool of blood on their adultery bed, handcuffed to the headboard that displays an ominous message in Latin. The alarm is off and the door was locked, so the only suspect possible is one of their own (or so Van Looy wants you to believe). At first, the film feels extremely clunky as it bounces between three different story threads: the police station where the men are being interrogated about the murder; the hour or so inside the loft as the guys try to figure out the who, what and why of the murder before figuring out what to do about it; and the events leading up to the murder over the past year. In a way, it doesn’t feel as if Van Looy knows how to handle all of the story lines in a coherent, fluid way, and some of his choices in cinematography and camera position are either too artsy for something like this, or too stock and boring. But once you get used to the bouncing narrative, it becomes much easier to follow (and much less distracting), allowing the pace and flow to fall into place like the pieces of the puzzle Van Looy is building.
Occasionally, though, the calculated reveals came off a bit jarring. Whether it be a missing key, a tryst gone wrong, exposing blackmail, or the declaration of several other devious misdeeds, the placement of these reveals is what matters, and at times they felt added for the sole purpose of pushing the plot forward rather then allowing them to be natural extensions of it. But in the end, they are all necessary to add intrigue to the mystery surrounding this woman’s death, even when the final reveal of what happened is over the top and forces one of the characters to go completely against the traits Van Looy set up in the very beginning.
With the delay in the film, the lack of any substantial marketing, the fact of it being a remake of a foreign film, and simply because of the overall premise, I was ready to thoroughly hate this movie. But with a final climactic twist (where we find out who it was that fell on top of a car in the opening shot) that turns the tables on everything that came before it, but remains faithful and respectful of it, The Loft makes for a worthwhile late night cable viewing on an otherwise sleepless night.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include The Seventh Son, Jupiter Ascending, and Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.