Movie Review: 'The Loft' (2014)

A morality tale, a mystery and a character study all rolled into one. The second remake and third adaptation of “The Loft” (the first in English) tells the non-linear and tawdry story of a group of friends who find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery when the body of a woman is found in the loft they share to carry on their infidelities behind their respective spouses’ backs.

One of the things to immediately set this movie apart from your typical thriller is that none of its lead characters are sympathetic and neither, particularly, are their wives. To solve the mystery “The Loft” requires its audience to check those judgments at the door and proceed by solely focusing on the evidence.

So many times a movie will get lost in trying to gloss over or insert heroes where there are none to be had and though “The Loft” flirts with that notion in the form of James Marsden’s frustratingly self-righteous Chris, it stays focused on a rather unsentimental approach.

Entangled in the suspense are five husbands who each represent a separate male stereotype: “the playboy” (Karl Urban’s Vincent), “the good guy doing bad things” (James Marsden’s Chris), “the quiet one” (Wentworth Miller’s Luke), “the loud mouth” (Eric Stonestreet’s Marty) and “the hothead” (Matthias Schoenaerts’ Philip).

How these guys became friends is a bit of a mystery unto itself, given their variant personality types would seem to spell incompatibility. Of course, when faced with this huge dilemma that foundation for strife seeps into the story in both unexpected and predictable ways.

To its credit, “The Loft” is a thriller that is genuinely surprising, never dull and entirely engrossing. Its various twists and turns, shy away from melodramatic shock value and the story progression avoids tedium with a tempo that keeps the story developing at a rapid enough pace to keep one on their toes and a slow enough one to catch the crucial details.

Director Erik Van Looy terrifically handles the jumbled timeline and though it’s an element that is difficult to get used to at first, it ends up serving the story in a fashion that sidesteps sheer gimmickry.

The greatest uphill battle it all faces in coming together is a lead character who rides around on a moral high horse he has no business sitting on and the absence of an explanation for why the men are cheating in the first place. Essentially, the audience is forced to accept all of these guys just so happen to be living down to the “men are cheaters” stereotype; a premise that clearly has its weaknesses.

Of the wives whose backstory goes the most curiously unexplained it is Chris’ (Rhona Mitra). She is shown to be sullen, angry and cold for no discernible reason, way before her husband takes up with another woman. While the other wives’ thoughts and feelings aren’t explored any deeper, her behavior is the most erratic and distractive, therefore drawing attention to the lack of cause given for it.

More than making up for that is the feisty, scene-stealing role of Marty’s wife, played with zealous proficiency by Kali Rocha. The character’s plucky repartee with her husband and overall sharp wit infuses some levity where and when it’s needed.

So much of “The Loft” hinges on the performances of its leads and some clever against-type casting is utilized to strong effect. That is most notably apparent when it comes to Eric Stonestreet of “Modern Family” fame.

Stonestreet breaks type in a serious role that allows him to show off his dramatic side, while allotting for some humor. Stonestreet proves he can work outside the canvas of comedic relief and the script preys on viewers’ knowledge of his lighter roles to keep you rooting for his innocence, even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

With the urgency of the writing and clear desire for bold characterizations, there's not much time allotted to exploring the characters any deeper than the suspense scenario at work, which makes the inclusion of certain backstories seem superfluous given they can't be used to build richer characters.

As a whole, the acting ensemble is sturdy. However, it’s Matthias Schoenaerts and Karl Urban, who glean the most interest in roles that in comparison to their counterparts briefly grace the screen, as they chiefly come in to punctuate the moments of other characters.

As Philip, Chris' unhinged half-brother with overprotective sibling issues proportionate to Tony Montana, Schoenaerts once again demonstrates his knack for portraying volatile intimidation; creating the uneasy tension imperative to the movie's overall suspense. While Urban brings the devilish charm as head cad Vincent, who despite being the architect behind the loft's use as a cheater retreat; mostly acts as a supporting player.

As it comes down to the wire, “The Loft” surges with an electrifying denouement that proves worth the wait. It’s a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t fully come into focus until you have all of the pieces and it manages to keep itself from getting caught in its own elaborate web, in the interim.

Thrillers have a tendency to fail at properly playing on the assumptions it has to know the audience will make and in this regard “The Loft” surpasses a lot of them; cleverly excelling at exploiting that very fact and in doing so, making itself more than worth the visit. Rating: 7.4/10

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