The director kinda/sorta roared onto the genre scene back with the 2002 release of Dog Soldiers. This tale of werewolves in the Scotland wilderness clearly sunk its teeth into audiences and held firm. Though I found it a bit untrained, I, too, became a convert to Marshall’s talent with The Descent (2005), a tense subterranean thriller that pitted four female spelunkers against a tribe of inner-Earth cannibals. But 2008’s Doomsday had me again questioning whether the director had the right stuff to truly compete in the cinematic marketplace: the Dystopian actioner starring the terrific Rhona Mitra felt entirely derivative and half-baked, populating what was left of Earth with a bunch of Mad Max extras in a story promising salvation but delivering stagnation. Indeed, things looked grim … both on and off camera.
To his benefit, Marshall found his career somewhat reinvigorated with an entry into the world of television production. Solid genre properties like Black Sails, HBO’s Game Of Thrones, and NBC’s short-lived Constantine showed that he still had his mojo; and episodes of Timeless, Westworld, and Netflix’s Lost In Space reboot followed. But the return to the silver screen with 2019’s box office disaster of Hellboy was a huge step backward … apparently in more ways than one.
If one is interested, then one can Google into the background of Marshall and his partner Charlotte Kirk. I’ve read some of the reportage, and – without going into the particulars – I think it’s all more than a bit confusing. Kirk – in her early career – has been linked to the dynamic fall from grace of an incredible handful of Hollywood heavyweights, perhaps so much so that it’s been suggested that she’s been blacklisted from several major studios as a consequence of her previous relationships. (There has been the suggestions of extortion, but – again – I haven’t seen anything proven.) Apparently, it was at this point in their respective careers that these two creative souls found one another and pledged a commitment to work together on projects.
Their first film – The Reckoning (2020) – came and went with little fanfare. (I’ve seen it, and interested readers can find my review right here.) Essentially, it’s a period piece set in the 17th century exploring the story of Grace, a young widow who gets accused of witchcraft once she rejects an elder’s advances (perhaps reflecting Kirk’s alleged Hollywood life?). Marketed as a bodice-ripper, it was everything but, and I imagine that didn’t help box office receipts. The Lair (2022) is their second attempt at fortune and glory; while I’ll say – in short – that it isn’t exactly a step in the right direction, the film still possesses the kind of B-movie charm that just might find an audience given a lot of blood, sweat, and tears … of which the film offers plenty.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“When Royal Air Force pilot Lt. Kate Sinclair is shot down over Afghanistan, she finds refuge in an abandoned underground bunker where deadly man-made biological weapons – half human, half alien – are awakened.”
The Lair is the kind of film I’ve often said is ‘perfectly imperfect.’
The central story – involving the downed RAF pilot Sinclair (played by the fetching Charlotte Kirk) – is really only the set-up for the main course, that being her discovery of a clandestine Russian bunker in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan wherein some dastardly Soviet Era scientists performed some gruesome experiments augmenting human DNA with strands of alien. For it’s in this miasma of B-movie tropes that this Lair has enough muscle, moxie, and military might that could effective in giving it a second life on home video. Certainly, such cinematic realities did wonders for a whole library of features from the 1980’s, and if the film gods are willing then The Lair will suffer a similar fate.
At the risk of sounding like the resident misogynist, I will say that it’s a good thing that Sinclair did her make-up before getting into her jet that morning. She looks good throughout the film, no matter the amount of sweat and blood they add to her complexion as the story unfolds. As gruesome as these human/alien hybrids appear, she’s a fabulous counterpoint; given the fact that she’s constantly spouting lines that were likely rejected from the shooting script of The Dirty Dozen (1967) only serves to underscore that – so far as film country goes – we’re not in Kansas any more … which is an especially touching sentiment given Jamie Bamber’s laughably bad Southern drawl. As the grizzled U.S. major in charge of his own particular band of military rejects, he’s only missing the token fat stogie of a cigar to truly sell the 1950’s era stereotype.
Still, what works – for the most part – is Kirk’s presence in the picture.
She almost swaggers through every scene with the kind of screen confidence often reserved for a John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, or Steve McQueen. In fact, in The Lair she’s part John McClane – that quintessential action star whose chief narrative characteristic is being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and her and Marshall’s script (they co-wrote this schlock) has her standing toe-to-toe with hardened soldiers not quite twice her size but pretty darn close. When not even bullets can pierce these lumbering monsters’ hides, merely a headbutt from her dazes them just enough to save the day! (Well, maybe not the day, but it at least gives them pause.) When everyone else continues uselessly unloading their weapons at the enemies, she’ll rush headfirst – across the field of fire, no doubt, without receiving so much as a nick or a scratch (when others are getting their faces bitten off) – only to mix it up in hand-to-hand combat with these alien bastards.
If that’s the kind of logic you’re looking for, then The Lair is a veritable repository of unintended laughs. While the Kirk/Marshall script clearly spells out that the United States’ military is not sending their best and brightest to the Afghanistan countryside (they’re all misfits who’ve chosen to escape prosecution in essence by taking this detail at the ass-end of the world), Sinclair remains a righteously moral and physical specimen all of her own. Why, it’s almost as if this woman could do no wrong, and – if you read my opening – then perhaps that’s a message intended from this creative pair back to Hollywood. Let’s hope the suits are watching, though I suspect they’ve chosen the latest Scorsese over this.
Still, as I’ve tried to be absolutely clear, there’s nothing wrong with the frenetic chaos, logical failures, and plot holes that populate so much of these 90+ minutes. As a B-movie, The Lair functions reasonably well: though a bit long in a few spots, I’d argue it’s a no-brainer, the kind I and my friends would’ve happily sat through back in my college days of the great 1980’s probably once, twice, or maybe thrice. It moves fast enough that – at first blush – some might not even notice its trash effects, sloppy writing, and hammy acting. A less attentive audience – one fueled by pizza, popcorn, and beer – might not even question why the hybrids didn’t use those face tentacles more often, especially given the fact that they often made victory achievable with much greater loss. See it as cognitive dissonance caught on camera, and it functions like a carnival attraction. What’s so wrong with that?
The Lair (2022) was produced by Rather Good Films, Scarlett Productions Ltd., Ashland Hill Media Finance, and a few other participants. (A full accounting is found on IMDB.com.) The film is currently available for streaming on a wide variety of platforms. As for the technical specifications? For the most part, I found the sights and sounds very impressive: there are a few sequences – particularly those shot at night – that were a bit difficult to fully see the documented action. While not entirely distracting, it’s a bit disappointing. As I watched the film via streaming, there were no special features to review.
Recommended chiefly for fans of B-movie actions (especially those with a SciFi/Horror angle), but most likely everyone else will find this one far too undercooked …
The Lair is the kind of film wherein it works best if (and only if) you turn your brain fully off. Otherwise, you might find yourself reaching for pen and paper to make a list of the number of mistakes and/or plot holes big enough to drive a tank through. In fact, if I were to sit down for a chat with writer/director Marshall, I’d be inclined to ask if he started out this project with the intent to make an action movie parody as the number of unintended laughs this one produced suggests he did. But all of that doesn’t remove the insufferable campy charm that runs through the piece from start-to-finish … including the bad accents, the flawed logic, the inferior special effects, and even the perfectly placed Wilhelm scream.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Shudder provided me with complimentary streaming access to The Lair (2022) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.