Streaming Review

The Lair review – ropey but hilariously gory B-movie

British filmmaker Neil Marshall's latest yarn is on the cheap side but reaffirms his status as a capable peddler of schlocky action

When Neil Marshall burst onto the scene roughly twenty years ago with his first two films – soldiers vs. werewolves actioner Dog Soldiers and caving nightmare The Descent – he was hailed by some as the bright future of British genre filmmaking, a B-movie fanatic who instinctively understood how to shoot and cut together action, horror and bare-knuckle thrills. Of course, things never turned out that way, with Marshall’s style never being quite hip enough to ride the critical wave many modern horror directors have managed since (and the less said about his 2019 Hellboy reboot the better).

Thankfully, his latest feature The Lair (and its immediate predecessor, last year’s The Reckoning) represents something of a return to basics for the filmmaker – and a director who could have carved out a healthy career making straight-to-VHS schlock had he been born two decades earlier is now doing the streaming-era equivalent.

We are supposed to be in Afghanistan (though Hungary, of all places, doubles for it in this instance), as fighter pilot Sinclair (Charlotte Kirk, also co-writer here with Marshall) is shot down behind enemy lines. She stumbles onto a Soviet-era bunker, where she awakens some long slumbering sci-fi experiments. As one thing leads to another, she reconnects with British and American invading forces, and alongside a token Afghan (politically correct this ain’t), they come together to take on the bad guys in a final showdown.

Let’s get this out of the way: much of The Lair is not good. The actors are a largely anonymous group, who – perhaps on a dare from Marshall – all elect to do some preposterous accent. A largely British cast attempt all manner of American slangs and a hodgepodge of British regionals (the Cornish actor exhibits some Celtic solidarity by attempting a Welsh accent, the sound of which feels as out of this world as the plot). The humour which riffs through the script gets a laugh or two, but in a “did they actually think that was funny?” kind of way. None of the characters exhibit more than one personality trait, and when they do it’s often a variation on “annoying.”

And yet, in spite of all that, when it comes to the action (and there is plenty of it), Marshall delivers. The Lair is hilariously, maddeningly gory, while scenes in which the characters journey into the bunker showcase masterful direction of light, shadow and movement. The low-budget occasionally scuppers a shot or two with unconvincing CGI, but much of the film sticks to good old-fashioned prosthetics and Marshall never resorts to chaotic shaky-cam to cover his tracks: the viewer always has a firm grasp of the geography and scope of every set-piece.

It’s easy to forget just how effective those first two features of his were at constructing bone-crunching action on bare budgets. Dog Soldiers may have just been an Aliens riff, but what a wonderfully effective one it was, a film fully face-down in the mossy damp of the Scottish Highlands. The Descent remains one of cinema’s greatest evocations of claustrophobia, delivering on every scare and then some. The Lair is nowhere near as good as either – too much feels ropey and cheap – and yet it's proof that Marshall still has the capacity for some fine B-movie hucksterism.

The Lair is released on Shudder on 26 January.

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