Horror and action are two genres that can be tough to blend. The Lair, the latest directorial effort from Neil Marshall (The Descent) attempts to do just that. The story kicks off when Royal Air Force pilot Lt. Kate Sinclair (Charlotte Kirk) is shot down over Afghanistan. She’s surrounded by enemy soldiers, and all hope seems to be lost until she takes refuge in an abandoned underground bunker. But when she discovers a horde of alien creatures inhabiting the subterranean space, it might not be the salvation she was hoping for. While Marshall infuses the script and screen with plenty of action and creature carnage, the horror elements aren’t quite as successful.
At first glance, Kate’s fish-out-of-water tale, combined with the inherent mystery of the abandoned bunker, makes for an interesting premise. And in the film’s opening scenes, it is. It’s a cool mix of political intrigue and human-alien hybrid creatures, as if Quarantine and Homeland had a strange baby. It definitely works here, so what keeps the film from being as successful as I’d hoped lies not in plot, setting, or stakes, but in execution. Alien creatures in an underground desert lab make for a tantalizing premise. Unfortunately, it feels wasted. Because aside from a few brief moments where the characters discuss the creatures and the bunker’s purpose, very little of the plot actually deals with unraveling their mysterious origins. Instead, the film dispels backstory and mystery in favor of jumping right into the action.
Watching Kate and company fight back against the creatures attacking them is the film’s focal point, and rightfully so. Marshall definitely uses his creatures for maximum action potential. The problem is that as intense as the action sequences are, they tend to lose their punch after repetitive scenes of our heroes fending off creature attacks with a barrage of gunfire. It almost feels like a videogame in the sense that the action is fairly relentless. While this very well could’ve been Marshall’s intent, it didn’t quite work for me here. The in-your-face action sequences rob the film of the dread and well-crafted suspense it feels like it’s missing. The design of the creatures themselves also isn’t as unique to make them stand out from those in creature features we’ve seen before.
If you’re looking to wind down with an action film featuring blood-soaked carnage and stylized violence, The Lair is a safe bet. But those hoping for something with more developed characters and a heavier dose of horror might be disappointed. Kate is a fierce, capable, and very cool protagonist, but aside from her grieving her son’s death, the film doesn’t give us enough reason to make us feel invested in her. It’s not a bad film at all, but the repetitive action sequences and weak characterization keep it from rising to the full potential of the better, more suspenseful story hiding within.
The Lair is available In Theaters, On Demand and Digital on October 28, 2022.