Stars: Charlotte Kirk, Jamie Bamber, Jonathan Howard, Hadi Khanjanpour, Tanji Kibong, Leon Ockenden, Troy Alexander | Written and Directed by Neil Marshall

frightfest 2022: ‘the lair’ review

Director Neil Marshall returns with a soldiers-vs-monsters thriller that harks back to his 2002 debut Dog Soldiers. Unfortunately, it’s something of a mixed bag – there are some entertainingly gloopy gore moments and the monsters are suitably monstrous, but the film is ultimately let down by dismal acting, a dull script and flat direction.

Charlotte Kirk (the director’s wife, who also gets a screenplay credit, amongst others) plays Flight Lieutenant Kate Sinclair, who gets shot down over a rebel stronghold in Afghanistan. Fleeing her attackers, she takes refuge in an abandoned underground bunker and unwittingly unleashes an army of toothy monsters.

Escaping to the desert, Kate falls in with a band of bickering soldiers – dubbed “the Dirty Half-Dozen” – who include: American senior officer Finch (Jamie Bamber), rugby-loving Welshman Jones (Leon Ockenden), kleptomaniac African-American Lafayette (Tanji Kibong), grumpy Hook (Jonathan Howard), military doc Wilks (Mark Strepan), hulking Bromhead (Troy Alexander), and captured local Kabir (Hadi Khanjanpour). Though initially sceptical of Kate’s tales of monsters, they soon fall into shape when the toothy blighters start attacking, and find they’ll have to work together to survive.

The exact nature of the monsters forms a key part of the plot of The Lair, but suffice it to say they feel suitably original – essentially humanoid forms with extended jaws filled with razor-sharp teeth, plus an ability to drain brains with a sort of suction device that isn’t explained too clearly. At any rate, the monsters – incredibly, there was only one monster suit on set, the illusion of multiple monsters is all down to the magic of cinema – are easily the film’s best asset and Marshall knows how to deploy them sparingly for maximum effect.

Sadly, the rest of The Lair represents something of a chore, as none of the characters are remotely convincing, coming across as a collection of badly written clichés (a Welshman who loves rugby, you say?) and not much else. Consequently, it’s impossible to care all that much when they meet their inevitably gory ends – if anything, you end up rooting for the monsters.

It doesn’t help that the dialogue is truly dreadful – it constantly feels forced and is often badly delivered to boot. It’s meant to approximate matey banter, but all the characters feel like they just met for the first time yesterday. Some of the performances are flat-out terrible too, not least Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica), who’s badly out of his depth with a supposedly Southern US accent.

On top of that, Marshall’s direction feels flat and uninspired throughout, trudging from one shoot-out to another in relentless fashion – this is one of those films where bullets are constantly flying, yet no one ever seems to get shot. Crucially, there’s never any sense of tension or escalation, it’s just attack, pause, attack, pause, attack, until the movie ends.

In fairness, Marshall does pull off the occasional fun gory bit – a face getting ripped off here, a surprise attack from behind there – but they’re not enough to make up for the relentless tedium elsewhere. Ultimately, the whole thing is meant to be knockabout gory fun and it just…isn’t.

** 2/5

The Lair screened as part of this year’s Arrow Video London Frightfest.


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