I must really love movies. Either that or I’m a glutton for punishment. And if nothing else in my previous thirty-some years of watching films proves it, allow me to submit as evidence the fact that I recently sat through three different versions of director Erik Van Looy’s juvenile story of The Loft. Yes, Universal’s new film is the second remake, but first in English, of Van Looy’s 2008 film Loft, about a group of five male friends who share an apartment in order to conceal their extramarital affairs, and into which one morning they find a dead, naked woman handcuffed to the bed, and proceed to spend the rest of the film arguing over what to do about it. Delightful, huh?
I could handle this subject matter for two hours, but after six it gets to be a bit much. Van Looy’s original embraces a Hitchocockian nostalgia for a time in the past where sexism was commonplace in films, especially in a whodunnit potboiler like this. But the acting is sophisticated enough, and the scenes lurid enough, to convince an audience that this world Van Looy created, where women seem to exist solely for the benefit of men, is successfully restricted to his five misogynistic main characters, without turning them into microcosms. The Flemish language also helped to put a bit of distance between me and the occasionally ridiculous dialogue.
Fast forward seven years later to Hollywood scribe Wesley Strick’s hatchet job, shaving twenty minutes off of the film, yet slavishly keeping the rest of the scenes nearly word for word. Responsible for penning great, literate screenplays in the nineties, like Scorsese’s Cape Fear and Mike Nichols’ Wolf, lately Strick seems to be just paying the bills, and The Loft is further evidence of the decline. The film feels rushed, like a greatest hits of the original, but lacking the connective tissue between scenes, where the characters were developed enough to be able to tell them apart. Add to that truly terrible acting this time around from practically everyone – Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller (is this all that writing the brilliant Stoker from 2013 has gotten him?), and poor Rachel Taylor, – forced to utter the agonizing dialogue about her boss carrying her panties around in his pocket – and everything feels so immature. In fact, The Loft plays like a freshman Screenplay 101 table reading, where pimple-faced adolescent boys write about women being whores to mask their own insecurities, and for some reason choose to write everything in flashbacks. And Van Looy goes along for the ride, probably worn out by the third go around, no longer able to distinguish what made the original watchable, and forced by an oppressive studio trying to satisfy an audience with short attention spans.
The Loft remake also selectively pulls its punches and becomes quite prudish in comparison, sorely missing some of its European predecessor’s frankness with respect to male nudity. In Van Looy’s original it leveled the playing field a bit, even though the pool scene was still soaked in male fantasy, it didn’t appear to be catering to puritanical notions like the remake, where women are not only expected to be abused and demeaned, but they’re also the only ones allowed to be exposed. In this way the film is just another example of Hollywood’s double standard with cookie cutter thrillers like this, towing the party line of societal norms and unwilling to stir audiences from their stultifying acceptance of prepackaged gender roles.
The Loft fails on every conceivable level, as a thriller or a mystery. The police interrogation scenes are still entirely pointless, and feature no resolution or payoff, existing only as segues into the various flashbacks, and the final revelation is not built to as much as its just triggered by the running time. But not before every character is shown to be a despicable mouth breather bounced around the plot like a ping pong ball. The Loft presents a very shallow and cynical world, and its lazy rehashing of elements from the original is just an echo of that, swallowed up by the vast emptiness created by the absence of any discernible meaning. To date the remake has only grossed half as much domestically as the original did in its foreign market. Shelved for several years and then quietly released in January, the studio must have had some inkling of the disaster they had on their hands, but perhaps they were banking on the fact that despite its faults it is not the worst erotic thriller released that month. But while it is still preferable to The Boy Next Door, there is no real reason to subject yourself to this film. If you are at all interested in the story check out Van Looy’s 2008 original, and skip this entirely.
The Verdict: Pan