The Lair is a monster movie that finds a rag-tag band of brothers fighting bloodthirsty subterranean monsters, making it a combination of writer-director Neil Marshall’s first two movies – Dog Soldiers and The Descent. But while the film doesn’t hit either of those genre highs, it’s nevertheless an entertaining creature feature with plenty of gore.
Neil Marshall’s first film – Dog Soldiers – was a fun romp that pitted the army against a family of werewolves. His second movie – The Descent – was a more serious affair, about a spelunking trip that goes wrong thanks to deadly cave-dwellers.
The Lair combines elements of both movies, but tonally, it’s similar to the former, the film never taking itself too seriously, frequently poking fun at the genre, and mostly playing the horror for laughs.
The film lacks a likable protagonist – meaning there’s no one to really root for throughout – but once the carnage kicks off it goes hard, making The Lair an absolute blast.
What is The Lair about?
Proceedings kick off in April 2017 via a combat mission over the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan. British planes are shot down. Insurgents attack. A gun battle ensues, followed by some hand-to-hand combat. And only Flight Lieutenant Kate Sinclair survives.
Sinclair flees to a nearby bunker that previously belonged to the Russians. She forces her way in, then descends down a ladder, into the depths of The Lair. Deep underground, Sinclair finds a series of rooms and tunnels, where she’s surrounded by ominous signs – gas masks, a chemical lab, and the real kicker; dead bodies.
The locals hunt Sinclair through the maze, and they converge in a room that’s filled with giant test tubes, which in turn are filled with… something in stasis.
As their battle continues, the pods open, and whatever’s inside takes out her pursuers as Sinclair escapes through the drains, and lives to fight another day.
Culture clash at Fort Apache
That’s the set-up for The Lair. The pay-off happens at Fort Apache, the US Army outpost where Sinclair soon finds herself. Which is filled with the worst of the worst, America sending its least capable soldiers to this remote settlement to keep them out of trouble. One character even calls them “The Dirty Half-Dozen.”
Headed up by Major Finch (a Colonel, until he was demoted) Fort Apache is also home to English and Welsh soldiers, as well as a few cliches and stereotypes. So the Welshman – nicknamed Taff, obvs – loves rugby, and won’t shut up about J.P.R. Williams.
But it’s fun meeting the cannon fodder before they fall victim to the enemy. And the way their cultures clash makes for some of The Lair’s most believable moments, as well as the film’s funniest scenes.
But this is a monster movie, and soon enough the creatures Sinclair encountered are attacking from all sides. “Kill anything that shrieks,” comes the order from Finch, and both sides are quickly heeding that advice, with deadly consequences.
The Lair’s hero problem
Sinclair – played by co-writer Charlotte Kirk – is the hero of the piece. But it’s hard to take the character seriously.
Sinclair has done three tours and flown 28 combat missions. She’s a crack-shot, and defeats everyone she fights. She even has a photographic memory. All of which makes her pretty much indestructible from the off, leaving little room for the character to learn or change over the course of the film.
Her personality – aside from being good at everything – seems to be the fact that she has a kid who she misses, which isn’t enough to sustain interest in Sinclair for the film’s duration.
Much better is Kabir, the local insurgent taken prisoner at the start of the story. As played by Hadi Khanjanpour, he steals pretty much every scene he’s in, and there’s times it feels like the film should be following his journey over Sinclair’s.
Man v monster
Neil Marshall has used CGI sparingly throughout his career, and takes a similar approach to The Lair, with the creatures brought to life using largely practical effects.
And that really works in the film’s favor, with battles between man and monster brutally physical and visceral, which really raises the stakes.
As for the monsters themselves, we won’t spoil what they are or where they come from, but the creatures are big, scary, and possessing of a toothy grin similar to comic book character Venom. They also have a few surprizes in store for the soldiers – just wait until you see what they do with their tentacles.
As ever in a Neil Marshall film, the gore quotient is high, so if you’re looking for lashings of blood and guts – as well as the odd decapitation or disembowelment – The Lair delivers.
The music also deserves a mention, with Christopher Drake’s electronic score reminiscent of John Carpenter’s best, and perfectly complementing the movie’s more tense scenes.
The Verdict – is The Lair good?
The Lair plays like a spoof at times, with characters that are frequently broad, dialogue that’s sometimes silly, and a protagonist who feels like she should be in Rambo satire Hot Shots Part Deux.
But that’s clearly intentional, as this is a B-Movie on a major scale; one that’s made by a master filmmaker playing with those B-Movie tropes. And on those terms, it works, with The Lair delivering great action, brutal horror, and monstrous thrills.