Loft (Erik van Looy, 2008)
Erik van Looy, a prolific short and TV director, has made just four feature films over the past decade. And if you live in America, the chances that you saw the first two (one of which, for the record, stars Mickey Rourke) are pretty slim. But his third, The Memory of a Killer, should have made van Looy a household name. It is the kind of movie that you walk out of, if you lock in with the director's rhythm, having become a lifelong fan of everyone involved. It was made during the unfortunately-brief period when it seemed like every really good up-and-coming European director was making fantastic neo-noir crime thrillers-Fresnadillo's Intacto, The Memory of a Killer, Babulani's 13 Tzameti, Audiard's The Beat that My Heart Skipped, easily a dozen more. They're all brilliant. (I've said more than once that while I can never quite get my head around what's so great about the French New Wave, I understand the feeling those critics rave about when I watch those early-21st-century Eurocrime movies, which are just as much a movement.) And thus I awaited van Looy's next effort with bated breath. Even more so when I discovered that it contained a role for Jean Decleir, the killer from that previously-mentioned van Looy film. (If that's your main reason for seeing it, his role is little more than a cameo.) And when I finally got round to being able to see it-Hollywood is in the process of remaking it, which makes it difficult to find in America-it was quite a letdown. It's a stylish little mystery/thriller, don't get me wrong, but the style is really all there is to it. It's quite conventional, and more importantly, predictable if you've seen enough movies in the genre to consider yourself a fan.
Plot: five friends hatch a plot to keep a swank loft as a place where they can take their dalliances. Chris (Koen de Bouw, also returning from The Memory of a Killer), the ringleader, only makes five keys for the place, and each of them has one. So when the body of a young woman turns up in the loft, there are obviously only five suspects, and the five friends realize they don't know one another nearly as well as they previously thought. The more they dig into the mystery, the more dirty laundry appears...
Loft, IMDB's trivia section tells us, is the most well-attended Belgian film in history in its native country, with over 1.1 million paid admissions (the previous record-holder, Koko Flanel, came in at 1.09 million. As a side note, it, too, contains Jean Decleir). And if you look at it as what would happen if Agatha Christie, say, had penned a Schwarzenegger flick, where less stuff blows up but there's the same element of turn-of-your-brain-and-have-a-good-time, that makes perfect sense. It's a stock plot with stock characters, a few expected twists thrown in by the expected characters. It's safe. It's the same kind of predictability you get when you walk into a Schwarzie flick; you know beyond any reasonable doubt even before the movie begins that Ahhnold will still be alive at the end, probably grinning and giving the camera a thumbs-up. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and if you're looking for something safe that doesn't require a great deal of thought, I can't recommend this highly enough. But if you're looking for a worthy follow-up to The Memory of a Killer, you'll have to wait for it until van Looy is finished trying (and, like most other European directors who find themselves in Hollywood's clutches, probably failing) to make a decent movie within the Hollywood machine. ***