Neil Marshall, director of Dog Soldiers and The Descent, opens up this year’s FrightFest with his new film, The Lair.
If you’ve never been to FrightFest, the UK’s biggest horror film festival, you really should change that. Taking place at Leicester Square over the August bank holiday weekend, this is 5 days of blood, gore and guts but also a strong sense of community.
Things kicked off on Thursday evening with the opening film, The Lair. Directed by Neil Marshall, this one had high expectations. Marshall is a bit of a legend in the genre circles, he did direct cult classics The Descent and Dog Soldiers after all. It’s a shame the skill level of those films is nowhere to be seen in The Lair.
Kate Sinclair is a maverick Royal Air Force pilot, currently flying over Afghanistan. She’s shot down and comes across a strange, Russian bunker that holds something strange and terrifying within it. She’s rescued by a near-by army unit, but Sinclair has accidentally awoken the bunker’s inhabitants who are in full attack mode.
There is a lot of fun to be had with The Lair. It’s full of wonderful camp and cheesy lines, with some satisfying gore to keep the real gorehounds (like yours truly) happy. It’s undoubtedly a fun film, but perhaps not for the reasons intended.
Marshall, who has gone on to have a very successful TV career, is working with a very small budget here and it shows. The CGI looks unfinished, the sets are less than stellar and more than anything, the entire film is just all over the place. The phrase, ‘it’s so bad, it’s good’ comes to mind and there are a few individual moments where this applies, but for the most part, The Lair is a missed opportunity.
While the setting is reminiscent of Dog Soldiers (also playing at FrightFest, in glorious 4K, courtesy of Second Sight Films), The Lair is never as clever or tense as that film. While the 90 minute runtime whizzes by, The Lair lacks that second gear, that extra something. The film goes stale and either fails or just plain refuses to reinvent itself enough to salvage the narrative.
Charlotte Kirk, who also starred in Marshall’s previous film The Reckoning, plays Sinclair with a straight-faced stoicism that leaves the character feeling cold. In fact, the entire cast takes the film way too seriously. Only Hadi Khanjanpour, who plays a friendly Afghan Kabir, seems to be in on the joke and his performance is the best out of the lot.
The Lair still excels in the creature design. The monsters that crawl out of the bunker are nasty and real, proving that it’s almost always better to stick a guy in a suit than CGI-ing an entire creature. Marshall carefully controls how much we see of them at first, which creates fun, tense anticipation. It’s a shame the rest of the film is nowhere near as tense as needed.
The Lair leaves a lot to be desired. It might become a future cult classic, but its tone is too inconsistent and it can’t decide whether it’s a comedy creature feature or a straight up horror film.