Starring Noriko Eguchi, Miki Nakatami, Ren Osugi
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
I couldn't help but side with David Cronenberg when he pulled the plug on his long-awaited Painkillers for having too much in common with his earlier films. There just comes a point when an artist’s trademarks begin to wear out and sink into formula.
Such is the case with Loft – the latest from writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a bad film. It’s stylish, well acted, and beautifully directed. From the haunting atmosphere to its deep musings on life and death, it has everything one would expect from the J-horror master. But therein lays the problem: We’ve seen it all before.
The story follows best-selling author Reiko, who moves into a secluded (*cue ominous music*) loft after a bout with writer’s block. There she discovers Makoto, a disturbed archeologist who has isolated himself in an abandoned building on the property. But he’s not alone. Makato spends all his time with the remains of an ancient mummy, which he is restoring for a future exhibit. Faster than you scream "Imhotep," supernatural incidents begin to occur and the two realize that they're caught in the grip of a powerful curse.
Although Loft is being billed as Kurosawa’s "mummy" movie, the whole thing plays out more like a typical ghost story with a mummified twist. In fact, anyone the least bit familiar with J-horror has little choice but to wait out the film’s two hour running time before the story reaches its predictable conclusion.
With Cure, Pulse, and Séance, Kurosawa proved himself to be one of horror’s greatest thinkers by
combining unforgettable images of the macabre with complex meditations on the human condition. But even with his introspective approach, Loft just feels like paved ground for the director. Once again, brooding characters lurch around abandoned set-pieces, losing their sanity as they foolishly try to outrun fate. Uninitiated viewers may find it refreshing, but devoted fans are better off revisiting one of his previous films, where he explores the exact same ideas in a much more satisfactory way.
On the other hand, Loft is absolutely gorgeous to behold and still manages to illicit chills through its familiar approach. Kurosawa directs with a keen eye, showcasing his best visuals to date, and he truly creates the sensation of a dark painting come to life. The film sustains a fair amount of dread throughout and there are plenty of terrifying moments scattered about. Sure, Kurosawa pulls from his usual bag of tricks, but even his old “ghost in the corner” routine still packs a punch.
Sadly, all the style in the world can’t redeem a film that feels both over-long and derivative. While Loft is scary and well-crafted, it also serves as a grim reminder that you can push the “autuer theory” too far.
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