The 2008 Belgian thriller Loft is a relentless plot machine, a whodunit knotted up in three layers of flashbacks, marital and extramarital relationships, and ample motives for any one of five different killers. It runs nearly two hours and is mostly tedious, because the characters are composed of so little beyond that list of motives, with a bit of psychology and familial resentment sprinkled on top. The film is largely notable as a stepping stone in the ascendent career of Matthias Schoenaerts, whose wounded masculinity was used to much greater effect later in Bullhead and Rust And Bone. Still, the rationale for an American remake isn’t bad, given its appealing cross between Usual Suspects twistiness and a straight-faced rendering of the Bro Code hedonism of The Hangover. And Loft director Erik Van Looy has returned to direct the English-language version—now sporting a definite article—and he’s certainly true to his original vision. It’s just that the vision was never terribly inspired from the start.
Matching the original beat-for-beat, and often shot-for-shot, The Loft has a catchy premise: Five guys each have a key to a high-rise apartment, where they can take their mistresses or one-night stands for discreet boning sessions. One day, a woman turns up murdered in the place, her wrist handcuffed to the metal bed frame. Whodunit? It could be any one of them: Vincent (Karl Urban), the wealthy real-estate agent who set up the loft for the group; Luke (Wentworth Miller), a bespectacled creep who seethes with jealousy over Vincent’s many conquests; Marty (Eric Stonestreet), whose eyes start to wander as his marriage inches over the precipice; Chris, the guy played by James Marsden; or Philip (Schoenaerts, reprising his role), Chris’ coke-snorting brother, who has a history of violence against women. Added to the mix are a handful of women, most notably Sarah (Isabel Lucas), a blonde Vincent and Luke meet on a business trip, and Anne (Rachael Taylor), a blonde who beds Chris for suspicious reasons. (There’s no intended insult in referring to both women solely as blondes, that’s just an indicator of how thinly they’re drawn.)
Though Van Looy’s Hollywood-slick filmmaking style carries over smoothly, his story—scripted (or transcribed, really) by Wesley Strick, who also penned the remakes of Cape Fear and A Nightmare On Elm Street—is all red herrings, which is a typical problem for whodunits. With near-mechanical regularity, Van Looy coughs up some new suspect with heretofore unrevealed motives, then moves on to the next one. This invariably leads to a number of ridiculous sequences where he cuts and pans across all the suspects (and their significant others) as they’re sporting some mysterioso, maybe-I-did-it look. Eventually, he has to put the Clue elements together—one man, with the knife, in the bachelor pad—and pay off on one of the possibilities. But even then, the plotting gets needlessly ornate. Whatever fun there might be in the guesswork is wiped away by the realization that Van Looy has made a puzzle for a puzzle’s sake, to no discernible thematic end. And now he’s done it twice.