The Lair, 2022.
Directed by Neil Marshall.
Starring Charlotte Kirk, Jonathan Howard, Jamie Bamber, Leon Ockenden, Troy Alexander, and Hadi Khanjanpour.
An RAF pilot is shot down over Afghanistan and stumbles across an underground lab where human/alien hybrids are being bred.
Strange times for filmmaker Neil Marshall, as it is quite clear from his last few movies that the glory days of his critical and commercial hits Dog Soldiers and The Descent are now a distant memory, and whilst news of a new Neil Marshall movie will always bring about it some hope that it might actually be worthy to sit alongside those lauded early works, the evidence has so far suggested otherwise.
And whilst recent efforts, such as 2020s The Reckoning, have been somewhat unfairly derided for sloppy production values and Marshall seemingly thrusting his co-writer and significant other Charlotte Kirk into the lead role, it does appear that this is the business model that the director is using going forward, which leads us to The Lair and sees Neil Marshall treading over old ground as he returns to the world of claustrophobic creature features.
This time, however, we are not in an isolated Scottish cottage or an unchartered cave but in Afghanistan, where Royal Air Force pilot Kate Sinclair (Charlotte Kirk) is shot down by Taliban soldiers. Fighting her way to shelter, Sinclair finds herself in an underground Russian bunker where she discovers several strange humanoid creatures being kept in glass tanks. Due to circumstances, these creatures escape and kill her pursuers, eventually finding their way to the base where Sinclair been taken to after bumping into some American soldiers, and there we have our motley crew of monster fodder as the creatures close in for the attack.
Pretty basic stuff and the sort of B-movie plot that Neil Marshall should be able to make something worthwhile out of as The Lair basically takes his two most popular movies and smashes them together, changes the setting and away we go. However, what made those two movies so engaging was not just the creature effects and Marshall’s genre knowledge, but having characters that were likeable and, probably more important, well acted, and The Lair is not a movie that scores highly on either of those points.
Action and horror can be a difficult hybrid if one of the elements is off. Neil Marshall knows what he is doing when it comes to setting a scene, framing action and getting the most out of the special effects on offer, and The Lair does do pretty well in those departments as the director tips his hat towards the obvious touchstones of Aliens and Predator – as well as Roger Corman’s Humanoids From the Deep, which is probably the nearest comparison, both visually and stylistically – with heavy doses of vintage John Carpenter and Wes Craven thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, the characters from those movies were exactly that – characters that were fully fleshed out with clever, concise writing and memorable performances. Here, Marshall and Kirk have tried to offer backstories to several characters but they weren’t needed, their inclusion slowing down the momentum and almost bringing the movie to a standstill, and in a horror/action mash-up that is the most unforgivable crime.
Elsewhere, it isn’t what is written as much as how it is said that grates, as accents vary all over the place. Charlotte Kirk seems to be trying to replicate Sean Pertwee’s rough southern English dialect from Dog Soldiers and Doomsday but it just feels put on and unnatural, whereas the prize for the ‘Why Did He Do That?’ award goes to British actor Jamie Bamber for his portrayal of American Major Roy Finch, who might be from Texas during some scenes but in others he could from Florida, perhaps even the Mid-West. Much like with the script, less would definitely have been more when it comes to the performances.
But acting and dialogue aside, The Lair does have some fun action sequences that work very well. The man-in-a-suit approach to the mutant creatures does give the whole thing that vintage Roger Corman B-movie vibe, and when the proverbial does start to hit the fan there is much joy to be had as heads get lobbed off, clawed hands punch through faces and tentacles get hacked to pieces. The effects may not be the greatest you have ever seen but we’re not (quite) down to SyFy levels of CGI ‘enhancement’, and at least by having people in suits to play the creatures the other actors have something physical to react to. Yes, it looks a bit silly at times but that is part of the fun, and those fun parts are when The Lair works best.
There will be those that will dislike The Lair because it isn’t as intense or polished as The Descent, or as frenetic as Dog Soldiers, and if this had been made by a less well-known director then it would probably get a pass from those people for being the throwaway B-movie homage that it is. But because it was made by Neil Marshall – the director who brought you Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion (and Hellboy, but we don’t talk about that) – it will be held to a much higher standard than it probably should be, and if the Marshall/Kirk creative team are going to continue down the route of knocking out cheap genre movies of their own scripts then they need to tighten up their game, be less ambitious with their material and tap into what made those earlier movies work as well as they did. In the meantime, The Lair will do as a stopgap.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★