British director Neil Marshall has made one genuine classic horror movie, the claustrophobic The Descent. And one could argue that his debut effort, Dog Soldiers, remains one of the best werewolf movies. Follow-up projects Doomsday and Centurion divided critics, but they’re still wildly interesting movies. Recent works haven’t been so much divisive as outright loathed. Last year’s The Reckoning was a middling period piece about witches, while Marshall’s Hellboy remake bombed earning him a Razzie nomination for worst director. Though his latest movie brings the filmmaker back to his creature feature roots, The Lair seems pretty under-the-radar for a comeback. Initial critical impressions aren’t overly positive either.
During a routine mission, insurgents shoot down Royal Air Force (RAF) Lt. Kate Sinclair over the Afghanistan desert. While evading capture, Lt Sinclair takes refuge in an abandoned Soviet bunker. But deep below the surface, Lt Sinclair finds the remnants of an unsanctioned biological weapons experiment. And these weaponized mutations haven’t quite expired – and now that they’re awake and free there’s an even more deadly threat in the desert.
The Lair Finds Neil Marshall Back on Familiar Ground
If you were a horror fan who loved The Descent and Dog Soldiers but was disappointed by The Reckoning, The Lair isn’t likely to win you back. Many of the familiar components of a Neil Marshall movie are here. There’s a mixture of horror and shoot ’em up action alongside hideous monsters and a ragtag group of survivors. Marshall certainly seems to be more in his comfort zone. As a result, the hit-and-miss results do include some things that work. In particular, The Lair fires on all cylinders when Marshall focuses on the bravado solider action. That opening standoff between Charlotte Kirk’s ‘Lt. Kate Sinclair’ and insurgents looks and feels like something that wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen. While The Lair never quite replicates that opening action sequence, it includes a handful of rousing battles.
Many of the familiar components of a Neil Marshall movie are here. There’s a mixture of horror and shoot ’em up action alongside hideous monsters and a ragtag group of survivors. Marshall certainly seems to be more in his comfort zone.
Arguably, The Lair struggles more with the horror side of the coin. That is, Marshall never elevates things above modestly budgeted B-monster movie. None of the claustrophobic tension of The Descent finds its way into The Lair. One problem that repeatedly pops up is that Marshall often overextends his reach beyond what the budget allows. Both The Descent and Dog Soldiers economically kept their creatures in the shadows as long as possible. But The Lair overexposes its creatures and the results are underwhelming. Poor CGI and dodgy make-effects and monster suits keep Marshall from convincing audiences that there’s serious stakes. Sluggish middle-act pacing and some tonal inconsistencies also hurt the overall effect.
The Lair is a B-Horror Movie Defined By Conventional Storytelling and Grander Ambitions
If there’s another problem with The Lair, it’s Marshall and co-writer Charlotte Kirk’s lackluster screenplay. Part of the tonal inconsistencies mentioned above come from a story that might work better if it embraced some of the movie’s campier elements. And yes, there’s a campy B-movie hiding just under the surface. After all, this is a monster movie where a character wears an eyepatch unironically. Not much about this story deviates from familiar expectations. Throw in some clunky dialogue and a handful of tropes and The Lair falls well short of Marshall’s better work.
Not much about this story deviates from familiar expectations.
Unfortunately, don’t quite live up to expectation, either. Most of the characters are underdeveloped stereotypes that feel interchangeable with just about any genre movie of this sort. Hadi Khanjanpour’s ‘Kabir’ easily stands head and shoulders above the cast. Specifically, Khanjanpour brings a much needed mix of emotional investment and levity. By the movie’s conclusion, Kabir is likely the character who will stand out. Charlotte Kirk, who pulls double duty as co-writer and the lead ‘Lt. Kate Sinclair’ doesn’t quite pull off the role. She’s not Rhona Mitra or Shauna Macdonald and much of the material demands more than Kirk can match. The rest of the supporting cast is neither good nor bad. Like much of the rest of the movie, the characters feel like disposable caricatures.
The Lair Isn’t the Return to Form for Neil Marshall Fans Might Be Wanting
On paper, The Lair sounds like a return to Marshall’s peak when he was making movies like Dog Soldiers and The Descent. You’ve got a motley group of survivors fighting off monsters in a remote setting. Occasionally, things look like a worthy comeback movie – both the opening and climax approach something that wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. But Marshall doesn’t temper his vision with the budget. As a result, The Lair frequently overextends itself tipping its more modest budget. Some lazy storytelling and paper cutout characters hold this one back.