Neil Marshall's The Lair
"Much more fun than, by any reasonable standard, it ought to be."

A pilot shot down over Afghanistan. Insurgents determined to kill her. A ragtag unit of soldiers desperately holding out against the odds. An underground bunker full of humanoid monsters with slimy skin and nasty sharp pointy teeth. You might well feel that you’ve seen this film – or two films, here spliced together – many times before. There is however a reason why Neil Marshall’s latest offering has been such a hit with genre fans, and that’s that it brings a freshness to the whole enterprise which makes it much more fun than, by any reasonable standard, it ought to be.

The pilot is Kate Sinclair, played by Charlotte Kirk, who previously appeared in Marshall’s silly but enjoyable Cromwell-era revenge tale The Reckoning. Then, as now, Kirk sports immaculate make-up, even when dirt and bruises have been applied over the top of it. She does a lot of her own stunt work and brings a necessary physicality to the role, yet nothing unsettles her perfectly coiffed hair. It’s quite a feat, but Kate has to contend with still bigger challenges as she single-handedly fights off a dozen or so heavily armed assailants, breaks into the aforementioned bunker in search of refuge, wakes up a monster (which will in turn wake up its pals), escapes, and inadvertently leads a contingent of monsters to a military base, where things get really ugly.

A military base might sound like a relatively safe space, but if you ask soldiers who have served in Afghanistan, they don’t feel that way. Marshall very effectively taps into a real world fear and exhaustion which many soldiers will relate to. This is very much about the experience of being down on the ground (or under it) and although there are a couple of officers present, rank doesn’t mean very much. There is no glorification of war (despite some pretty spectacular combat scenes) as nobody trusts the higher-ups with their secrets and their belief that soldiers can be expendable. The film also has an Afghan character (played by Hadi Kanjanpour) who asserts that he had no choice but to help the insurgents because his family would have been killed otherwise.

He’s not just there to make a point, however, having a classic action movie arc of his own. This is a film which plays to the strengths of all involved, with only the accents presenting a serious struggle. Marshall is a top notch action director and he is in his element here. It’s not just the creepy scenes in the bunker or the beautifully choreographed fights – it’s the energy and paciness of the whole thing. There is no point at which viewers are able to relax and take it from granted that nothing bad will happen. Even during slower scenes, the high stakes and the intensity of discussions maintains a sense of urgency.

There’s also a warmth to the character relationships which makes it easy to invest emotionally. Fans of Marshall’s work will be reminded of Dog Soldiers. He certainly hasn’t forgotten how to speak squaddie. Although there are too many characters for us to get to know much about most of them, they almost all make an impression, and we care about them because we can see that they care about each other. We get just enough backstory about the unit to understand that they won’t bore us by following the rules and to appreciate that they are far from invulnerable.

Dog Soldiers was, of course, delivered on a tiny budget, and marshall has fun here with a bigger one, delivering a series of great practical effects. There’s plenty of blood and gore for those who like that sort of thing, but it’s all to a purpose, with the story coming first. Though it’s often derivatiive and it’s really very silly, The Lair is a great ride from start to finish.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2023
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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.

Director: Neil Marshall

Writer: Neil Marshall

Starring: Jonathan Howard, Charlotte Kirk, Jamie Bamber, Tanji Kibong

Year: 2022

Country: UK


Frightfest 2022

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