The Lair is a new creature feature horror movie directed by Neil Marshall, the man responsible for one of the best horror movies of the last twenty years, The Descent (2005). While I had seen some episodes of Game of Thrones and Westworld that Marshall directed, I hadn’t seen a feature of his since the abysmal Hellboy (2019). I had heard that his latest feature would be a return to form and jumped at the opportunity to see it on the big screen. So I went into The Lair with cautiously optimistic hopes.
The film opens with an RAF pilot named Lt. Kate Sinclair (Charlotte Kirk) getting shot down over Afghanistan in 2017. On the run from Taliban forces, she stumbles upon an abandoned underground Soviet bunker where she takes refuge. It doesn’t take long for her and her pursuers to discover the remnants of a massive lab filled with tubes containing monstrous humanoid creatures.
The creatures quickly break out and track Kate to a nearby American military base, where she meets up with a group of soldiers comprised of washouts, screw-ups, and various other disenfranchised military personnel. As the creatures hunt their prey, the motley group must band together to survive the onslaught and prevent the creatures from being unleashed on the world.
The Lair is a movie that embraces any stereotypes and clichés, from its story to its characters. The cast is mostly made up of British actors, some of whom sport American accents with mixed results. Charlotte Kirk as Kate is a bit unconvincing as an RAF pilot, but she mostly makes up for it with a fiery physical performance. Jonathan Howard as the leader of the military squad, Hook, gives a more believable, if still hammy performance, channelling a stripped-down version of a world-weary Christian Bale, as he deals with an increasingly ludicrous threat.
Jamie Bamber as Finch, the commander of the base, takes the cake by turning in one of the most over-the-top performances of a Southern commanding officer in recent memory. He gives a cringe-inducing southern accent that could cut glass. By itself, his eye patch would have been enough to register Finch as the cartoony character that he is, but his take on the evergreen trope of the country military commander nearly breaks what is already a cheesy movie to begin with.
“The first half of The Lair takes itself relatively seriously, while still sprinkling in some corny macho dialogue and establishing its broadly drawn cast of characters.”
Goofy characters aside, I was really taken with the film’s premise and setting. It feels like a scenario out of The Dark Pictures Anthology video game series, specifically House of Ashes, which is not a bad thing. I’ve always found setting a horror movie, particularly a monster movie, in the Middle East to be a very fascinating concept and refreshingly different from what you would normally expect.
The first half of The Lair takes itself relatively seriously, while still sprinkling in some corny macho dialogue and establishing its broadly drawn cast of characters. Right around the time the creatures launch a midnight raid on the base is where things start to get unabashedly cheesy. Characters start to get picked off one by one and some hammy encounters between the soldiers and their monstrous foes would make William Shatner cringe, particularly the scene in which Finch unloads a shotgun at one of the creatures who burst into his tent.
At first, I thought this incongruous tone and jarringly trite dialogue were unintentional, but as The Lair went on, it was apparent that this was what the filmmakers were going for. While I was a little let down by the movie not being as serious as I’d have liked it to be, once I got used to the style, I was able to turn my brain off and have fun. Even with a limited budget, Neil Marshall knows how to stage action and create entertaining, if not completely believable, characters. The editing is also well done, with Marshall credited as the film’s sole editor.
On top of that, wherever the movie was shot looks incredibly authentic. The rocky desert terrain of Afghanistan looks harsh and dry. The military base where most of the movie takes place is situated on a raised plateau overlooking a valley, and the location is fully taken advantage of in a variety of genuinely impressive wide shots and action set pieces. The practical makeup and special effects makeup also look great. Bloody jaws ripped off, ragged lacerations, and concussive explosions of red mist all look believably gory.
The film’s low budget is both a help and a hindrance to the production. While it’s always fun to see real locations and guys in rubber monster suits jumping around and ripping people up, (as opposed to overly animated CGI creatures), the plug-in muzzle flashes and some smoke/bullet hits look cheap and took me out of the movie a little. They just look so unconvincing. I know that’s just something I have to accept with lower-budgeted modern movies, but it doesn’t make these effects any easier to watch.
I drove four hours to see The Lair on the big screen, and while it didn’t blow me away, and wasn’t the sophisticated return to the genre for Neil Marshall that I would have liked, it was nevertheless entertaining and still worth the drive.
This content was originally published here.