In order to review the plot of Loft, it will be necessary to spoil the story, unfortunately. So if you haven't seen the film AND don't want to know the surprises in store... Well, a script review isn't the best thing to read, I guess.
The script opens on a rainy night. Police cars arrive near a building, a loud smash is heard, and then we see Chris looking down from the loft, distressed, saying 'I could have helped you'.
The scene shifts to a interrogation room in a police station. Vincent is being interrogated by two police inspectors, and claims to be innocent. 'They' were framed. The police inspectors ask him to tell the whole story again, and this leads into the first flashback.
A man arrives at the loft (his arrival is intercut with images of as-yet unidentified people making love), and discovers a dead naked young woman, bathing in her own blood, on the bed. He reacts with shock. The man is Luc.
Vincent arrives later, reacts horrified. Luc wants to call the police, Vincent is dead set against this. Luc reveals the door was locked and the alarm was off, so the girl must have been let into the loft by one of the friends as they are the only ones with keys.
In the police station, Luc is now interviewed, and the reason for the existence of the loft is revealed: it's a bachelor pad for five friends, where they could bring their girlfriends and mistresses. Luc claims he's never been to the place, and this morning he had breakfast with his friend Chris, a psychiatrist.
In the flashback, Chris arrives at the scene of the murder, soon followed by Marnix. It is discussed whether Chris' brother Filip could be the culprit. Vincent takes charge: they're friends, they'll get out of this mess together.
We then flash back again, to a party in an art gallery one year ago. We are introduced to the wives of the friends, and to Filip. During the party (in honour of Vincent's latest project, Vincent takes the men to the loft and proposes that they share it in order to sleep around once it's finished.
At the party, Chris meets the beautiful Ann, the sister of a former patient of his. Ann claims to be the assistant of the mayor. She flirts with Chris in a roundabout way - he is intrigued.
Back at the crime scene, Luc flips out and has to be kept under control. Marnix discovers a Latin phrase on the wall, written in the blood of the dead girl. Someone is out to get the men.
In the police station, Chris is now being interrogated and translates the phrase: Fate will unite us. We get some backstory about Filip's violent past as well.
Back at the crime scene, the men start accusing each other and discover the murder weapon - a knife from the kitchen. Chris urges the guilty party to confess - to no avail.
And we flash back again to one year ago, to the wedding of Filip. His father-in-law, Tyberghien, is introduced, a project developer who is close friends with the mayor. We're introduced to Sharon, Filip's younger sister, as well, and Filip turns out to be fiercely protective of her. Vincent hands the men the keys to the loft, except for Chris who doesn't want it. Chris meets Ann again. It's clear she is the mayor's mistress. Chris confronts her with this truth, she admits it and entices Chris with a description of some of the sex games the mayor likes her to play. Chris is interested, wants to invite her for a drink sometime, but she doesn't want that. Soon after, Chris asks Vincent (who has kissed Sharon in the meantime) for the final key.
Once again at the crime scene, the men try to find out who might have had access to the loft. Chris hasn't got his key with him.
In the past, the men and their wives are at Chris' house for dinner. Marnix almost reveals too much about the loft. Luc's wife asks him whether he's in love with someone else, Luc denies it.
At the crime scene the recriminations keep flying without anyone getting the wiser. The possibility is raised that someone is out for revenge against one of the men.
We then flash back again(!) to the loft, where Chris and Ann have sex. He's madly in love with her by now, she however doesn't want that, and reveals she's actually a call girl. She's obviously upset, and clearly feels more for Chris than she wants to.
At the police station, Marnix is now interviewed and admits to having met the dead girl once.
This leads to a flashback in Düsseldorf, where Marnix, Luc and Vincent meet two Flemish women at the hotel bar. Marnix is roaring drunk and has sex with the least attractive of the two. Vincent and Luc hang out with the other girl, Sara, and Vincent has sex with her in the swimming pool while Luc watches. Sara turns out to be the murdered girl (who we also have seen in short flashbacks in the loft where she is apparently being dumped by her as-yet unknown lover).
At the crime scene, the men suddenly suspect Vincent of having been there yesterday, and Vincent confesses the girl was still alive when he left. Chris wants to go to the police, Luc thinks Vincent has to confess something more first. Vincent reveals to Luc and Marnix they know the girl - they met her in Düsseldorf. They are interrupted by someone ringing the doorbell: a woman from an estate agency has a meeting here with Sara Delporte (the dead girl)regarding the sale of the loft. The men send her away (without letting her in, of course), but the news that someone is putting the loft up for sale causes more panic. Vincent admits he broke up with Sarah the night before and she took it badly.
In flashback, Chris meets Ann again, he wants her back. But they are interrupted (accidentally- by Luc's wife, and Ann runs off.
Back at the police station, Luc defends Vincent and his friends, and claims he's never cheated on his wife. He gets angry at the cops and their insinuations.
At the crime scene, the recriminations keep flying. But we soon flash back again to Marnix who has been dumped by his wife, looking for solace from Vincent. Vincent promises to help Marnix get his wife back.
At the crime scene again, the men now discuss how to get rid of the body.
And we flash back AGAIN to a previous visit to the loft, when Chris and Vincent have to save a Russian prostitute from Filip's cocaine-fueled rage. Chris offers the girl a lot of money to keep things quiet. He feels guilty about it, though.
Marnix and Luc didn't know about this event, but Luc has an even bigger secret to reveal: he's been taping all the sex play at the loft. Filip beats him up in a fury, but the men realize that the solution to their dilemma might me captured on tape. Luc mysteriously asks Vincent what he thinks will happen when all the betrayed ones get together.
We then flash back to a gala at a casino, about a week before the murder. Vincent puts the mayor and Tyberghien under pressure in order to get a big commission. Filip quarrels with his wife and then beats up some guy who is hitting on his sister, which causes his father-in-law to diswon him.
Chris is lured to the toilets by Ann, but there he is confronted by the mayor who warns him that Vincent is playing a dangerous game and should stop it. Chris asks the mayor to stop seeing Ann, but the mayor reveals that someone paid Ann to seduce Chris. Chris, shocked, confronts Ann about this, but she doesn't reveal who paid her. She confesses to be in love with Chris too, but he runs away, looking for more answers, and runs into his wife - an uncomfortable situation.
Sarah, meanwhile, confronts Vincent, wants to be with him, and is about to reveal everything to Vincent's wife when Luc stops her. Vincent notices the five women look at him in a strange way...
... And at the crime scene, he realizes the women know about the loft and what they've been up to. At this point, his friends reveal that they know what he's been up to, and that they've planned everything to get him. Vincent suddenly discovers he's been drugged, and his friends take off his clothes. He's powerless to resist.
The four men reveal (in another flashback to that same morning) they discovered the body of Sara a hours ago. She left a suicide note for Vincent. Luc reveals he didn't call Vincent because he has to show his friends something. He reveals the DVDs he made, where we see Vincent having sex with Marnix's wife, Filip's sister, Ann and Sara - who Luc had fallen in love with. Vincent betrayed each and every one of them.
Filip wants to kill him, but cooler heads prevail and a deadly trap is prepared. The men have to work together and deny everything to the police. Chris wants to be sure, though, before they go through with things - he'll give the signal if he thinks Vincent deserves his punishment. The men go to fix their alibis, while Filip remains behind to dress up the crime scene. When everyone's gone, he cuts the wrists of the dead girl and writes the Latin phrase on the wall.
Back in the crime scene present, Vincent realizes he's been betrayed, and Chris asks him why he did what he did. Vincent's answer: because he could. Nothing means anything to him. With these words, he seals his fate. Chris manacles him to Sara's corpse, and Vincent faints in a drugged stupor.
In the interrogation room, Vincent now tells the police inspectors what his friends dod to him, but they don't believe him. There were no traces of anyone but him and the dead girl, and his fingerprints were on the knife. The others all have alibis.
Chris is released from the interrogation room, the policeman has one more question: why does Vincent keep inculpating his friends? Is he covering up something else? Like the fact he murdered Sara? This shocks Chris: he didn't realize Vincent was going to be accused of murder. The police came to this conclusion because the way Sara's wrist was cut was done by someone else, not herself. And there was no suicide note...
Chris is very upset, feels in his pocket and suddenly realizes something. He goes back to the loft and confronts... Luc. He claims Luc stole the suicide note from his pocket and tricks him into admitting he organized the visit from the estate agency. And didn't Luc hide the note because HE wrote it?!
Luc confesses: he was in love, not with Vincent as everyone thought but with Sara. She, however, felt nothing for him. So when Vincent dumped her, Luc gave her sleeping pills and an insulin overdose. He killed her because he loved her too much. However, it now turns out she only died when Filip cut her wrists, and Vincent is now going to be tried for her murder. Luc is surprised by this, but when Chris tells him it's over, he gets furious and tries to force Chris to jump from the balcony of the loft, threatening him with a knife. The men fight, and Chris finally gets hold of the knife and throws the suicide note down, informing Luc he's called the police (who are just arriving). Luc throws himself off the balcony, to the horror of Chris - and we're back at the opening of the film.
In an epilogue, we see all the men are now divorced (except for Marnix who's back with his wife), Filip will be tried for the murder, and Chris meets Ann again, with the possibility of a new romance left open.
Whew. That took much longer than I thought!
What becomes clear when you analyze the plot of Loft is that it is a preposterous story. The inciting incident makes sense, the basic situation has dramatic power. But once you start tracking the plot and subplots, scrutinize the behaviour of the characters, and look at the way the storytelling tries to obscure plot holes or strive for effect, it's obvious that nothing makes any sense. In many cases, the narrative cheats in order to keep the audience guessing.
Some of the bigger questions one is left with:
- Why does Vincent claim not to know Sara when discovering her body?
- Why are the men so surprised when Vincent is accused of murder? They chain him to a woman with a slit wrist, for heavens sake. What is the police supposed to believe, especially since she's in a position where she couldn't have cut her wrist herself?
- Why do the other men pretend not to recognize Sara?
- Why don't the police grill the other men about the accusations of Vincent? Why don't we see them ask them anything about the final moments?
- How do the four men manage to fool Vincent AND the police perfectly? Are they such accomplished liars?
- How could Chris not tell that Sara wasn't dead yet? He is a medical professional, after all.
- Why is Chris so surprised the suicide note is gone? He kept it in his pocket, didn't leave it in the loft to get Vincent off the murder hook.
Moreover: how did he suddenly realize Luc was behind it all? There is no real linking piece of evidence for him to piece together.
- Why does Chris say he could have helped Luc (after the suicide)? He's the one who was going to get him arrested!
- Why doesn't Vincent accuse his friends from the very first interrogation scene?
- How did the friends - none of whom are in any way associated with the police - manage to clean the crime scene to such an extent that not a single trace of them could be found? Especially with DNA testing, their presence at the crime scene would definitely have been discovered.
- Why did Filip write the Latin phrase on the wall?
- What do the men hope to accomplish with their sinister 'game'? If they don't want to land Vincent in jail, why do they bother? And why do they come up with such a tortuously complex plan (and in such a short time too)?
As you see, from the moment you start thinking about what happens and why, Loft's narrative collapses like a house of cards. So why doesn't this become obvious to the audience?
Because of two reasons: the genre, and the narrative choices. Whodunits are very often totally preposterous once the mystery is revealed. However, the trick is for the author to make the preposterous seem logical or at least acceptable, at least at first glance. Once you join in the game, as viewer or reader, you're trying to outwit the storytellers, and they have to do their best to keep at least one step ahead of you. I think it's fairly safe to say that no one could guess the exact outcome of Loft at the beginning of the film. They might have guessed the killer's identity (I did from a very short clip on television, in fact, but it was purely a lucky guess based on the actor cast in the part and the role he played), but the reasons for the murder and the twists and turns of the story were utterly unpredictable.
Secondly, the narrative choices obscure much of the plot holes on first reading (and viewing). Because of the multi-layered flashbacks, the audience is somewhat disoriented, has to work at making sense of the time frame, characters relationships towards one another etc. As I said before, without the flashbacks, almost everything would have been revealed much sooner to the audience. And they would have had too much time to reflect on the likelihood of the plot twists and revelations.
There are also several narrative cheats: the men pretending not to recognize Sara (and then suddenly admitting to knowing her after she was introduced in the flashback), the first interrogation of Vincent where his behaviour makes no sense when seen in the light of the later revelations, or the interrogations of the other men where Vincent's accusations are never mentioned), Chris suddenly realizing Luc is the killer...
To be fair, most of the implausibilities come in the final stretch of the film, and most reviews praised it but found the final 20 minutes too over-the-top, stretching credibility too much.
Structurally, Loft is a complex beast. Not only are there the several layers of flashbacks, which aren't arranged in a linear fashion, but there's also the framing device of the interrogations, and the fact that there's not really a main character driving events.
The interrogations serve as a sort of spine (the men are interviewed consecutively at first, except for Filip who for some reason doesn't have to appear at the police station), and the flashbacks are triggered by a questions, a word, a description, a thought of a character. De Pauw and Van Looy have obviously spent a lot of energy making these transitions special and unpredictable.
The many layers of the story make the structure seem fairly confusing at first glance. However, thinking about the main story beats, we get:
Inciting incident: discovery of the corpse
turning point 1: the men all take the keys to the loft
midpoint: Vincent makes love to Sara, watched by Luc
turning point 2: the men reveal to Vincent that they are behind everything and capture him
crisis: Chris realizes the suicide note is missing, and deduces the culprit
climax: Chris confronts Luc who jumps to his death
resolution: the aftermath, one year later.
What's obvious here is that the structure points do not all focus on one main character (which would be Chris here) but jump around a lot. This is another indication that Loft isn't so much a character-based drama, but a plot-driven script, an ingeniously constructed puzzle which is very clever but lacking in plausibility and character depth.
The theme of Loft is more than infidelity alone. It's about betrayal. Betrayal of love, of friends, of self, of principles... Not one of the five main characters is honest, either to themselves or to others. Chris betrays his wife, Luc betrays love, Vincent betrays everybody just for the hell of it. On the other hand, the women are true to their men. Even Ann, who is hired to seduce Chris by Vincent, never really lies to him, tries to stop him from falling for her.
In fact, it's on this thematic level that the script for Loft is most succesful. The theme is explored in many ways (thanks to the many possible subplots) and it also lends a feeling of unity to the narrative.
Loft's incredible success cannot be attributed to an exceptionally qualitative screenplay. Thematically the script is strong, its basic concept is clear and speaks to the imagination, even though infidelity isn't as shocking a topic as it would have been several decades ago, and it embraces the whodunit genre fully, keeping the audience guessing thanks to its deliberately complex narrative strategies.
On the other hand, the characters are not very interesting and often one-dimensional, the plot is full of implausibilities, the twists piled upon twists make suspension of disbelief impossible, and emotionally the script never really connects. And the dialogue is serviceable, but rarely inspired.
The enormous success of the film must be primarily attributed, then, to the strong cast, the quality of the direction, the enormous popularity of Van Looy and De Pauw as media personalities as well as filmmakers, the exceptionally well-managed media hype, and the fact that the Flemish cinema audience is now very well-disposed towards local films - a trend which was really started by Van Looy's previous film, De Zaak Alzheimer. A trend which is only made all the stronger by Loft's amazing performance at the box-office.