Beware The Lair

Movies Reviews Neil Marshall
Beware The Lair

Neil Marshall hopes to reclaim in The Lair what his ferociously exceptional feature debut Dog Soldiers boasts. Spoiler alert: Mission failure. In fact, Marshall continues to be a shell of his formerly formidable horror director self after bungling the David Harbour Hellboy reboot, then partnering with his new muse Charlotte Kirk on 2020’s abysmal witch-hunt thriller The Reckoning. Any semblance of Marshall’s intense atmospheric dread, gorgeously grim practical effects, and steady command over performances has vanished like any excitement for future collaborations with Kirk. All that’s left is a sci-fi actioner that’d be ridiculed even alongside Asylum specials made for SYFY or Tubi—and possibly a missing persons case to find the real Neil Marshall’s whereabouts.

Kirk stars as Royal Air Force pilot Lt. Kate Sinclair, who’s shot down midair over Afghanistan, is chased into a Soviet bunker by roaming terrorists, then rescued by a problematic American platoon. Sgt. Tom Hook (Jonathan Howard) escorts her into their barracks and behind fortified walls. Sinclair has somehow survived her plane’s crash and subsequent kidnapping but starts blathering about a third threat: Awoken creatures in the bunker. Major Roy Finch (Jamie Bamber) offers Sinclair shelter, yet unearths no reports of an underground stronghold in the area. That’s before whatever attacked Sinclair escapes the once-locked facility and makes their presence known.

The Lair is an abomination of bad accents (“Texan American” yee-haw, “Unintelligible Englishman,” Australian muddying both), excruciating action hero one-liners, and discouragingly archaic plot choices. I thought we were taking a break from Middle Eastern terrorists representing pure evil, let alone defining the main squad’s only Black member as a hot-headed kleptomaniac. There are choices with a capital “C” made by co-writers Marshall and Kirk, whose screenplay plays like an algorithm feasted on C-grade action titles from the ‘80s that didn’t display half the presence of Schwarzenegger or Stallone mainstays. “What’s the plan, Stan?” Sinclair asks Hook (during extraterrestrial warfare), and Kirk’s not even the worst of the cast when it comes to cringeworthy deliveries. The Expendables roster calling back on their cheesiest zingers from yesteryear is entertainment—here it’s a bunch of nobodies playing Last Action Hero Mad-Libs with the gravitas of a high school improv troupe who places last at their school’s talent show.

Sinclair is a far cry from leading action royalty, which sinks The Lair before it can even swim. Neither alien fight choreography nor final girl flexing are Kirk’s forte, poised awkwardly during gun battles and selling her eye-rolling action heroine like leftovers she didn’t even bother to reheat. Costume design does her no favors, since the military fighter pilot is dressed in neatly pressed khakis and a comfortably tight-fitting turtleneck. Sinclair is devoid of the survival presence painstakingly earned by Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Samara Weaving (Ready or Not) or any of the standout action-horror women who’ve graced the genre before, between and after. Kirk feels like she’s playing G.I. Barbie dress up, never immersed in a danger-scant film that doesn’t allow for immersion. Marshall and Kirk want what Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich have, but aren’t anywhere fit to kiss their rings.

Technical aspects across The Lair range from fumblingly inept to laughably corner-cutty, whether that’s edit snips around sticky situations (Marshall notches the sole editor credit) or putrid night-vision graininess. My favorite scene is when Sinclair finds herself pinned behind a concrete pillar by terrorist assault fire, eyes a drainage grate seemingly in harm’s way, and then wham—the film cuts to her shimmying down a mucky tunnel (enemies none the wiser) before the camera shows the grate somehow unmoved, fastened in place. That’s just one confounding example of the inept carelessness on display by a filmmaker who seems asleep at the wheel, which accounts for digital effects that wouldn’t even pass for a CollegeHumor parody video. The monster costumes might be alright, considering they’re exposed under light and maneuverable as actors clamor around as generic subterranean brutes, but there’s nothing more worth mentioning. Marshall’s been responsible for two of the tighter, more rapid-paced horror features in recent memory (Dog Soldiers and The Descent), which makes his devolution into amateur clunkiness that much more of a puzzle.

Truthfully, in what world does Marshall go from directing Dog Soldiers and The Descent to The Reckoning and The Lair? It’s a digression on an unfathomable scale, yet here we are, mourning the spiritual loss of a man seemingly on his way to being a contemporary horror master. The Lair is messier than mutant guts and a stark downgrade from even the most napkin-outlined military horror scenarios where off-kilter soldiers fight unknown entities. Everything lacks, nothing shines and no bombs ever explode, because it’s a zero-excitement dud—stay far away from The Lair.

Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Neil Marshall, Charlotte Kirk
Starring: Charlotte Kirk, Jonathan Howard, Jamie Bamber
Release Date: January 26, 2023 (Shudder)

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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