Lair Review- A Great Twist And Creature Is Overshadowed By Disjointed Storytelling
Strong visuals and an unexpected twist ending elevate Adam Ethan Crow’s Lair from generic to worth a watch, but just barely.
Adam Ethan Crow’s Lair is a haunted item story in the same vein as The Conjuring universe. There are a glut of artifacts that may or may not be haunted and a morally bankrupt opportunist seeking to solve the mystery to make a buck. If said opportunist can save his friend in the process, even better.
Lair opens with a possession underway. Ben Dollarhyde, the fantastic Oded Fehr who is criminally underused, brutally butchers his wife and son inexplicably. When his friend Steve Caramore(Corey Johnson) visits him in jail, Dollarhyde claims he was possessed by something that Caramore gave him. Despite Caramore being an “occult expert,” he is a skeptic who only pretends to believe in what he spouts to a paying audience. After Dollarhyde’s lawyer asks him to look into the murders, he decides to conduct a dangerous experiment to prove whether his friend is a killer or a victim.
For Caramore, the experiment is a chance to make money. He doesn’t care so much about clearing his friend’s name or conscience. He wants the cold hard cash a viral video could bring him. If he can capture something spooky on camera, he would have instant paranormal street cred. The legalities of spying on people and the inherent dangers of playing with powers he can’t control don’t concern him. Lucky for Caramore, he has just the location. His father recently died, and his old flat is perfect for his operation. It’s at this intersection between willful ignorance and shady morality that our vacationers find themselves.
A mother, her two daughters, and her girlfriend have rented a sizeable to-good-too-be-true apartment for a holiday. What they don’t know is the Airbnb renter has installed cameras everywhere, planted creepy haunted trinkets in the rooms, and rigged a set of lockdown devices that imprison everyone inside the apartment in the event some hinky demonic stuff begins happening.
Shortly after arriving, Maria (Aislinn De’ath) and Carly (Alana Wallace) discover Caramore invaded their space and left haunted items in the rooms. But, instead of demanding their money back and dipping out, which most of us would do, the couple perseveres, and that’s when things really take a turn.
Possession films and demonic artifacts rely on several things. First, the unsuspecting parties must be disbelieving or ignorant, and they must also have no way out of the situation. Lair does both, although one better than the other. It’s a tried and true premise that had potential that was largely wasted on one-dimensional characters. For horror films to work, you need one of two things. You either need characters you are genuinely scared for or of, or you need something relatably scary.
If you don’t care much if the main players die, that isn’t the kiss of death. The film can still be good if the tension is high enough or scares impactful enough to put you on edge. A great horror movie has both compelling characters and quality scares, but an entertaining film only needs one. Unfortunately, Lair underutilized its biggest asset, the creature. Fortunately, Lair has a great twist ending that saves the film from being over and underdone at different times and allows it to become something watchable.
Caramore is a slimy little troll of a man who spends the majority of his time peeping on the couple and plotting his next move. Whether he was drawn flat, or Johnson chose to play him that way is unclear. His delivery of ridiculous lines like “Mother of dragons!” while watching someone be ripped apart is so cartoonish it ruins what could have been a darkly humorous element of the film.
It’s as if Crow wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to be funny and instead chose to dive directly into the pool of bad taste. Caramore is so unpleasant you begin rooting for the demon, if only to shut him up. Johnson gets better the worse things get for Caramore. His behaviors and delivery become more believable and less rehearsed the farther he gets from his original slimy purpose. By the end, Johnson settles into a more natural character that doesn’t detract from the story.
There are some genuinely unnerving visuals coupled with subtle narrative cues that all is not well in the flat. A weird shadow here and a subtle demonic hand there make for good scares. An excellent jump scare in a bathtub scene is particularly effective. However, a few too many narrative leaps and a buffet-style approach to storytelling don’t allow for the distillation of the scares. For example, an entire scene where a child gets separated from her family is utterly pointless to the overall story. Crow would have been better suited to focus on the inherent claustrophobia of a confined space and the dangers therein.
The camera work and monster design are outstanding. Splashes of blood and shadowy bursts of demonic energy are strong choices. It is here Crow shines. The idea of Lair isn’t bad, and there are some really good elements, but they get lost in the stilted dialogue and obtuse story. I don’t mind films that take their time to unfold. The tension of a good slow burn, when matched by the shock of a satisfying conclusion, is genre gold. Lair’s confusing narrative, however, unspools into a mess of meaningless side plots and confounding sidesteps that only serve to waste time. More effective is a time jump with fifteen minutes left that allows for the twist to hit hard. Knowing what happened and then watching it happen leaves a lot of questions that demand answers.
Lair isn’t without its charms, but most of them are overshadowed by a laundry list of what could have been. If Crow can harness his ability to create quality concepts and good creatures, he could be the next great horror name. Lair is available VOD everywhere you stream movies right now.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.