Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, Hellboy) knows how to make a horror film. The writer/director is responsible for the early 2000’s cult classic The Descent, a film that has been praised for its mature characterization of a group of women (a relatively novel concept, as far as early ’00s horror was concerned). In addition to its dramatic and psychological elements, The Descent was also freaking terrifying. Even the toughest, most hardened horror fans are quick to admit that it scared their socks off.
With his latest movie, The Lair, Marshall shows off the same masterly command of perfectly timed jump scares and gruesome gore that trademarked his earlier work.
The Lair follows a Royal Air Force pilot named Kate (Charlotte Kirk) who is shot down over Afghanistan and discovers an abandoned bunker full of lab equipment and scary-as-hell humanoid monsters. Kate flees and finds shelter in a small U.S. army outpost manned by a team of quirky-but-loveable misfits.
Soldiers and monsters go together like peanut butter and jelly. Especially when there is a dash of science fiction in the mix (let’s just admit it — a creepy and ethically questionable experiment becomes 1000 percent more believable when the military is involved).
By this point in his career, Marshall has proven more than once that he knows how to build tension. The horror elements are on point, and the action sequences are edited to perfection. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but Marshall and Kirk, who co-wrote the script together, employ zingy one-liners sparingly.
Where The Lair falls short is its more dramatic moments. Kate lacks the ragged desperation to survive that would help an audience really connect with her. Thanks to an unnecessarily expository script, we know the facts of her tragic backstory. But, because we know so little about her inner emotional world, it isn’t clear how the monsters are connected thematically to her journey as a character.
Kate is the sort of direct and muscled horror heroine that Marshall put front and center in The Descent, though without the grittiness and complexity that made those women interesting. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: giving a character a family doesn’t automatically make them relatable or sympathetic. Neither does giving them a dead one.
Don’t get me wrong; The Lair is still a fun ride. What it lacks in heart and humanity, it makes up for with enough ooze, blood, explosions, and creepy creatures to keep your adrenaline pumping.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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