The secret hideout of a group of Flemish horndogs comes under threat of exposure in "Loft," a tightly drawn, atmospheric thriller that has one false bottom too many to qualify as great.

The secret hideout of a group of Flemish horndogs comes under threat of exposure in “Loft,” a tightly drawn, atmospheric thriller that has one false bottom too many to qualify as great. High-concept suspenser, from the team behind 2003’s “The Memory of a Killer” (aka “The Alzheimer Affair”), has racked up boffo numbers in Belgium, with north of 500,000 admissions in three weeks (in a language-area of only 6 million), even keeping “Quantum of Solace” from the top spot in its third week. Abroad, success will be harder to attain beyond usual genre outlets, though remake potential is lofty.

At the wedding of loose canon Filip (Matthias Schoenaerts), silver-fox architect Vincent (Filip Peeters) distributes keys to a loft in a swanky riverside apartment building he’s designed. Besides Vincent and the groom, keys are also offered to three of their friends: Marnix (Koen de Graeve), who loves a drink and anything in a dress; Luc (Bruno Vanden Broecke), a silent-waters-run-deep type; and Filip’s elder half-brother, Chris (Koen De Bauw), a psychiatrist.

All are married and need little convincing that a centrally located getaway unknown to their spouses could come in handy. Even Chris, the most principled of the bunch, says yes after meeting mysterious beauty Ann (Veerle Baetens) at the wedding.

A year later, with the chums carelessly sharing the loft, things turn ugly when a female corpse turns up chained to the bed. The quintet is afraid to go to the police because it would reveal the existence of the loft to their better halves, though early interrogation scenes — the pic is narrated in flashback — show that’s exactly where they’ll end up.

The film is well-plotted, if not always well-written, and the flashback structure puts the protags under pressure from scene one and never lets up. Actor-turned-screenwriter Bart De Pauw, aided by Erik Van Looy’s able direction of his cast, sketches a large number of characters in shorthand without resorting to cliche. Even the five wives and other family members feel real, and ensemble acting is strong.

While the murder plot is always front and center, themes such as the hollowness of friendship, and the destructive force of sex and the male libido, brew just beneath the surface. Pic convincingly paints self-sanctioned infidelity as the ultimate illness of our egocentric age.

However, the revelation of the plot-behind-the-plot in the final 20 minutes feels like one rug too many being pulled from under auds’ feet. The final twist forces the film into some last-minute contortions that make the expertly built-up tension fizzle.

Lenser Danny Elsen and editor Phillipe Ravoet (both “Memory” alumni) are able students of the Michael Mann and David Fincher schools of cool, with a nod to Brian De Palma in a standout sequence at a casino. Art director Kurt Loyens’ stark contempo interiors underline the emptiness of the characters’ lives.

Loft

Belgium

Production

An Independent Films release of a Woestijnvis presentation and production, in association with Een. (International sales: The Works, London.) Produced by Hilde De Laere. Directed by Erik Van Looy. Screenplay, Bart de Pauw.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Danny Elsen; editor, Philippe Ravoet; music, Wolfram De Marco; art director, Kurt Loyens; costume designer, Tine Verbeurgt; sound (Dolby Digital), Geert Engels, special effects, Olivier De Laveleye; assistant director, Eddy Stevesyns. Reviewed at UGC De Brouckere, Brussels, Nov. 22, 2008. Running time: 117 MIN.

With

Koen De Bauw, Filip Peeters, Bruno Vanden Broecke, Matthias Schoenaerts, Koen de Graeve, Veerle Baetens, Ann Miller, Jan Decleir. (Dutch dialogue)

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