Posted by Holly
Have you ever watched a film that left you so completely puzzled that you’re not even quite sure if your feelings lean towards positive or negative? A film that, if questioned on what the film was actually about, you’d probably stammer for a few minutes before vaguely describing a few scenes in the hopes that somehow you’d start to comprehend it yourself?
That, my friends, was my experience with watching Loft.
I’d heard of this film before – it is, after all, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the person behind such brilliant films as Kairo and Cure. I am unabashedly a fan of Kurosawa’s other work, so I certainly was excited to give this film a watch. And it does carry certain traits over that are common in his other works – a crawling pace, for example. Make no mistake, this one has a lot of the same atmospheric charm the others do as well – there’s just a strangeness to it that’s difficult to reconcile with his other films.
Loft follows Reiko, an acclaimed writer who is suffering from writer’s block when trying to work on her new novel. As a way of combating this, she moves into a quiet and isolated house to try and finish up the new book. She becomes intrigued by her neighbor’s strange behavior, and soon learns that the loft she is living in once housed a woman that has since gone missing.
The story in this is a bit of a mess, honestly. I’ll give the film the benefit of the doubt and say that I believe that some of it may have been a bit lost in translation – the subtitles on the film I watched had a few noticeable flaws, and so it may not conveyed the storyline as clearly as it could have. However, even when taking that into consideration, there seemed to be two stories that were competing with each other for the viewer’s attention; the one of the woman who has mysteriously gone missing, and the ancient mummy the neighbor has been quietly housing. There is an attempt to intertwine these plots, and that’s primarily where the film lost me.
I mentioned before that the pace is slow, but allow me to clarify: by slow, I mean like a sloth dosed up on Nyquil. This movie is basically that friend that you’re up talking to late at night, and they fall asleep mid-thought until you poke them awake. It feels like it forgot that it needed to be somewhere, and just wandered aimlessly until it accidentally stumbled onto its plot again. If you’re not overly bothered by a movie asking a lot of patience from you, then the slow pace does eventually reward you with some great eerie moments, but weigh your patience very carefully before watching.
This movie has moments of tonal dissonance that seem particularly jarring when you first notice them – moments of overacting and scenery chewing so expert it would give Nicolas Cage a run for his money. There are also moments of over the top romance that are oddly sporadic and not in line with the rest of the film’s atmosphere. Ultimately, when looked at in retrospect, it seems like the film itself is partially a genre pastiche, playing up the dramatic moments in a much bigger way than would strictly be necessary. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Reiko is attempting to write a romance novel throughout the film – something she considers out of her comfort zone – and we are being fed strange scenes of dramatic romance. These moments seem to be an intentional way of playing with genre itself. This is best exemplified with the final scene, which feels part parody, part loving homage to the final scene of Vertigo.
With all of its flaws, this movie is honestly pretty damn creepy. With Kurosawa’s expert hand in the direction, the visuals presented in this elevate past the puzzling plot and deliver some sincerely scary moments. The way sound is used in this film is fantastic – rather than the traditional scare chords associated with jump scares, Kurosawa plays with the absence of sound. When the music swells and then suddenly cuts out with the appearance of the ghost, it makes for a much more effective scare. The visuals are also top notch, creating the kind of tension that keeps you watching the background and every dark corner that the scenery permits.
The ghost herself is quite fascinating, and despite having some difficulty piecing together parts of the plot, I found her character engaging. Like many horror films, we are dealing with a woman who has been brutalized, raped and left for dead. When Makoto, our male protagonist, happens upon her, instead of showing gratitude or relief at his presence, she taunts him. “Go ahead and save me,” she spitefully tells him, which feels as much of a comment to the audience as it does to Makoto; she has already suffered, acting like a white knight there to save her now will not change that. When you put this reaction into the context of the events that follow it, it’s an interesting, if not entirely intentional, commentary on a man’s reaction when a woman tells him she doesn’t need or even want his help.
When I finished watching this movie, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. But over the next couple of days, I found myself unable to stop thinking about it. Even if it was something as small as a fleeting “what the hell was up with that weird movie?” it didn’t simply pass through without making an impression. And honestly? The more I thought about the movie, the more of a growing fondness I had for it, the more I appreciated the scares. I won’t necessarily give this film a glowing recommendation, but it’s certainly one that is hard to forget.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. I can’t decide if I liked it or not, so I’m scoring right down the middle.
Violence level: On the lower end. There’s sexual assault, but not a lot graphically shown.
Scariness level: Medium. Too few moments in the first half of the movie, but it gears up into some great ghostly appearances in the latter half. Also, the time lapse footage shown early on the film is one of the creepiest scenes, even if mummies aren’t your thing.
Bechdel test: Fails. The women in this only ever interact with the men, not with each other.
Mako Mori test: Also kind of a fail for me – ultimately, I feel like Reiko kind of watches the vengeance play out in regards to Makoto’s story, without having much of an active role in it. Her own reason for being there (writing her book) isn’t really fully resolved.