The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - THE LAIR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - THE LAIR

The Lair review
A downed RAF pilot discovers a hidden secret in the Afghanistan desert.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Neil Marshall

Starring: Charlotte Kirk, Jamie Bamber, Jonathan Howard, Hadi Khanjanpour, Leon Ockenden

The Lair poster

Writer/director Neil Marshall burst onto the horror scene two decades ago, drawing much praise for his first two movies. At a time when the genre was still dominated by post-Scream teen slashers, Marshall's 2002 debut Dog Soldiers, in which a bunch of gruff British army squaddies battle werewolves in the Scottish highlands, was a welcome love letter to classic monster b-movies. Marshall followed his debut with another monster movie, albeit one with a much more sombre tone. The Descent swapped out soldiers for a bunch of female spelunkers, all loaded with varying degrees of personal baggage, who find themselves fighting albino creatures in a subterranean cave system.

In the years since, Marshall has struggled to repeat the success of his opening salvo of genre entries, though I have to confess to enjoying his largely derided Hellboy reboot, a movie that owed more to the sort of British comics Marshall (and this writer) grew up with in the 1980s than their American cousins.

The Lair review

It's no surprise then to see Marshall attempt to emulate the formula of his early films. Co-written with his romantic and creative partner Charlotte Kirk, The Lair is something of a mashup of Dog Soldiers and The Descent. Like the former it features a bunch of soldiers fighting eight-foot-tall monsters, and like the latter it gives us a woman recovering from a recent loss fighting albino creatures in a subterranean…lair.

That woman is RAF pilot Kate Sinclair (Kirk), who stumbles upon an old Soviet bunker when her fighter jet is shot down over a remote part of Afghanistan. Chased into the abandoned facility by a group of gun-toting Taliban, Kate stumbles upon what seems to be a research facility filled with giant creatures in cryogenic chambers. When the Taliban gunfire shatters the glass of one such chamber, a monster is released, dispatching several of Kate's pursuers before giving chase to the downed pilot.

Fleeing the bunker, Kate is picked up by a platoon of American soldiers, all of whom have been assigned to this Godforsaken corner of the world for past indiscretions. Yes, as Kate points out, they're the Dirty Dozen. Kate tries to tell her rescuers what she witnessed, but she's laughed off in public by eye-patch wearing Major Finch (Jamie Bamber), who privately contacts his superiors with her intel. As night falls, the monsters congregate outside the army base like the natives of Zulu or the gang members of Assault on Precinct 13, leaving Kate, the Americans, three foul-mouthed SAS troops and a captured Taliban driver to fend them off.

The Lair review

Unlike The Descent, which took an age for its plot to eventually kick in, The Lair hits the ground running, with everything laid out for us within 20 minutes. An early reference to Kate's dead husband may have you worried that we're in for another horror movie that gets bogged down in exploring "trauma", but Marshall has no such pretensions. He's solely interested in offering up a John Carpenter-esque siege move with larger-than-life characters and formidable baddies.

For the most part he succeeds, though it's more Ghosts of Mars than Assault on Precinct 13. Marshall is self-aware of his film's (and indeed his career's) debt to Carpenter, and in one scene he exploits our familiarity with one of the most memorable shock moments from The Thing to prime us for a surprise that never comes, only to then later cleverly catch us off guard.

Miscast in The Reckoning, her previous collaboration with Marshall, Kirk embodies the part of a badass here, looking like an action figure brought to life in her figure-hugging fatigues. It's a shame that she fades into the background for much of the film, as Marshall attempts to juggle more characters than are really necessary. Much of the humour comes courtesy of Leon Ockendon as a Welsh cousin of the squad leader played by Sean Pertwee in Dog Soldiers. The film's intense action scenes are soundtracked by his hilariously understated comments, urging his men to "Kick his fucking head in," orders made laughable by the scale of the opposition. As the captured Taliban driver, Hadi Khanjanpour delivers the film's most convincing performance, and it's intriguing how a character set up initially as a one-note villain morphs into an audience surrogate, the one civilian among these GI Joes and Janes.

The Lair review

Not so convincing are the American soldiers, most of whom are played by Brits with unconvincing accents (Bamber's is so terrible he often sounds as though he's dubbed). Marshall spends a scene outlining the various reasons why these men and women have been punished by being forced to man this remote outpost, but save for one character's kleptomania, none of their various traits actually play into the narrative. Bamber's Finch initially seems like he's set to fill the obligatory role of the asshole who jeopardises everyone else's chances of survival (think Paul Reiser's Burke in Aliens), but he turns out be quite heroic. It's a nice subversion, but the trouble is the film could have really used an asshole character to add an extra layer of tension to the proceedings.

It wouldn't take too much tinkering with the script to elevate The Lair above its Friday night six-pack and curry aspirations. That said, in an era when so few mainstream genre films are content to simply deliver a fun time, perhaps that's not such a bad ambition.

The Lair
 is on Shudder now.

2023 movie reviews