One year ago, Vincent Stevens (Karl Urban) rented a sleek, upscale loft in downtown Los Angeles and gave keys out to closest friends Chris Vanowen (James Marsden), Luke Seacord (Wentworth Miller), Marty Landry (Eric Stonestreet) and Philip Trauner (Matthias Schoenaerts). All five were married, which made this secret place all the more tempting to steal away to with mistresses and one-night stands. Now, a mystery blonde has been found dead in the apartment, handcuffed to the bed with her wrist slit open. The security alarm never went off, which means that one of them must have used their key and is responsible for the crime. As Detective Huggins (Kristin Lehman) and Detective Cohagan (Robert Wisdom) interview the men, the sordid twelve months prior gradually come into focus.
"The Loft" is distasteful and misanthropic, littered with characters one would never want to know in his or her own life. The English-language debut of Belgian director Erik Van Looyan American remake of his own 2008 thriller "Loft"the film probably didn't warrant a redux, but its thematic ugliness is countered by how shrewdly it is made. Cast in one light, it is a sudsy soap opera with a particularly pessimistic view of human relationships and the nonexistent sanctity of marriage. Set up as a mystery that unfolds in flashback-laden layers, the story leads to a series of twists that are unpredictable, but not terribly compelling. In order for the viewer to be involved on a deeper level, there has to be someone on the screen to latch onto and care about, but good luck finding that sympathetic beacon among these five cheating, lying dogs. Illuminated from a different angle, however, the picture is polished and well-shot by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, all sharp corners and shiny surfaces amidst ultra-modern decor and architecture. As composer John Frizzell's (2013's "Texas Chainsaw
") intoxicating score keeps the pacing at attention, there are occasions when it is easy to forget how shallow its plot is, a house of cards from which there is little to take away.
The cast appear to be fully engaged, making good with roles generally too underdeveloped to seem to exist beyond the confines of Wesley Strick's (2010's "A Nightmare on Elm Street
") superficial screenplay. A smooth, smarmy Karl Urban (2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness
") and a low-key James Marsden (2014's "The Best of Me
") are given the most to do among the leads ("protagonists" is too kind a word for them), while the suggested multiplicity of Wentworth Miller's (2010's "Resident Evil: Afterlife
") enigmatic Luke vanishes the second one key detail proves to be a red herring. In a part that is the diametric opposite of his flamboyant Cam on TV's "Modern Family," Eric Stonestreet (2013's "Identity Thief
") is transformative as the loutish Marty. And, as Chris' troubled younger half-brother Philip, Matthias Schoenaerts (2014's "Blood Ties
") is at his best when he is sparring with his take-no-prisoners wife Vicky (Margarita Levieva), well aware that there is a tidy prenup with her name on it.
Indeed, Vincent, Chris, Luke, Marty and Philip are objectifying male chauvinists, but the film narrowly avoids becoming these things itself by presenting the women as strong, equal-opportunity offenders who are quick to catch onto their husband's ways and refuse to be made into fools. Rachael Taylor (2011's "The Darkest Hour
") is an alluring scene partner for Marsden as the enigmatic Anne, revealing a damaged intelligence that draws Chris to her even as it proves to be what will drive them apart. As the self-assured yet ultimately vulnerable Sarah, who falls for Vincent but sees her burgeoning feelings unreciprocated, Isabel Lucas (2012's "Red Dawn
") brings a raw emotional honesty to her every moment on screen. Hers is one of the few characters worthy of our affections.
"The Loft" is a stirringly cynical work, painting a sneering portrait of monogamy that attempts to reason that men will be men, and cannot be expected to stay faithful to their significant others. By giving the women a voice, director Erik Van Looy has evaded one-sided sexism and instead made a handsome, trashy melodrama where neither gender is a victim. As for what the overriding point this story is attempting to make, that is less clear. Once all the major reveals have been bumblingly dealt, spelling out the blatantly obvious with callbacks to scenes and dialogue that have occurred mere minutes before, there is no substance left to hang onto. Dissipating with every turn of the screw and ending in an undeservedly too-nice, too-neat denouement, "The Loft" is akin to a hollow shellattractive on the outside, and empty where it counts.