As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. As a filmmaker, he’s able to manufacture creepiness with lighting, shot composition, and sets alone. The actors (and ghosts) that populate his scenes are sometimes just icing on the horror cake: Kurosawa knows how to design his films to maximize scares better than any other director in recent memory.
Loft is no exception. The film mostly takes place in a couple of desolate buildings and every shot has Kurosawa’s prints all over it. The lighting and scene progression were particularly impressive. The plot and characters are almost secondary; the scenery and timing do almost all of the heavy lifting for scares. Kurosawa has the ability to take us through a what’s-behind-that-door scene, the kind we’ve seen in a thousand other films, and still make it dramatic and suspenseful.
Loft’s plot is a little difficult to describe. The protagonist is a writer struggling to get through a novel in time for a deadline. Having moved out to the country to concentrate, she runs into a university professor who seems to have kidnapped a 1,000 year old mummy. When the protagonist agrees to hold on to the mummy for a bit, things start to get very strange. Eventually, she and the professor must solve a series of seemingly-unrelated problems if either of them ever hope to be comfortable in the dark again.
Unlike some of Kurosawa’s other films, Loft is actually fairly straight-forward. I was not left scratching my head at the end of it, which is more than I can say for Pulse or Retribution. It’s not simple, but on the other hand he spends a lot more time explaining things in this film than in some of his others. I think the goal in this film is simpler: he’s got a particular theme in mind but there’s no grand message that he’s trying to convey. In that sense, and in the way that Kurosawa actually tells his story, I think Loft is most similar to his earlier film Seance.
One reviewer I read called the film “uneven,” which I think is an insightful description. There are a couple of extremely jarring scenes, scenes that do not fit with the rest of the film to such a degree that you have to wonder if maybe it’s a dream sequence or something. There’s extremely little dialog, so when the characters start to express any sort of emotion other than fear, it seems a little thin. But those sections of the film are thankfully few and far between, and the rest of the time is spent slowly (the pace is quite glacial) exploring ways to freak the characters (and us) out.
In fact, this film seemed quite Western compared to the rest of Kurosawa’s catalog (excepting Seance, which is based on an English short story and feels very Western). Of course, the particulars of each individual scare are very Japanese per Kurosawa norm, but the way that information is revealed and the clarity of that information seems more in line with a Western thriller than Japanese horror. Like I said, this film is the easiest of Kurosawa’s recent work to comprehend.
For me, the amazing cinematography and genuinely scary sequences were more than enough to make up for some of the films flaws. Loft isn’t a phenomenal film, but it’s extremely well made, it’s pretty scary, and if you like Kurosawa’s handiwork as much as I do, there’s a lot here to enjoy.