Shudder Secrets: The Lair Explained
Neil Marshall started out with quite the track record with The Descent and Dog Soldiers, two of the best creature features of the last 20 years. He returned in 2020 with his historical horror feature The Reckoning, starring his partner, Charlotte Kirk. The couple’s latest project, The Lair, again stars Kirk, who also co-wrote the film with Marshall.
For those hoping for another version of The Descent, this movie will disappoint. Shudder’s latest, however, is still a decent creature feature with some gnarly gore and some wicked-looking monsters. It’s certainly not Marshall’s best to date, but it’s something to turn on late on a Saturday night with a six-pack and pizza. Just go into it without comparing it to the director’s earlier work.
A Woman’s in a Man World
Kirk stars as Capt. Kate SInclair, whose plane is shot down over Afghanistan. Unlike The Descent, which features an all-female cast trapped in caves and hunted by vicious predators, The Lair places Capt. Sinclair in a man’s world. In fact, the only other woman is Corp. Jade Lafayette, played by Kibong Tanji. Both women can hold their own, including warding off advances from the men. Yet, it feels like there’s a missed opportunity here for greater character development and conflict. We barely get any sense of how both women feel being in a nearly all-male unit. That said, at least a majority of the male soldiers aren’t creeps.
Further, I would have liked a little more interaction between both women. They certainly have scenes together, but there was potential to develop that dynamic more. The film doesn’t necessarily need any sort of feminist undertone, but it’s heavy on the action and rather light on plot and character development. That said, both women can pick up a gun with ease and blow away the slew of monsters hiding in Soviet-era bunkers.
The Lair’s Half-Humans, Half-Aliens
The monsters aren’t quite as impressive as the predators in The Descent or the werewolves in Dog Soldiers, but they’re still pretty cool. One even rips a guy’s face off. The monsters are half-human, half-alien hybrids that have hidden in bunkers since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. This is a cool concept, but again, it feels like another missed opportunity. There was a serious chance to explore the legacy of war and empire in Afghanistan, first the Soviet occupation and then the US occupation post 9/11. The monsters are part of that legacy in this world, but Marshall doesn’t do much with it. There’s even a character, Hadi, played by Kabir Abdul Rahimi, who joins the soldiers to mow down the monsters. He recounts the Soviet invasion and his memories from childhood, but these scenes are short and brief. This is a character who deserved more attention. He has more substance compared to the other characters and a story to tell regarding his country’s contemporary history.
For the harshest critics, I suspect the creatures will look like a B-movie, man-in-a-suit type of deal, but they’re still pretty vicious and even have gruesome tongues that can choke people. My biggest gripe is that in Marshall’s film, they don’t really serve as a metaphor for much of anything. They’re just there to attack and increase the body count and bloodshed. And even though there are several sequences where the survivors track the monsters in the bunkers, it never reaches that level of claustrophobia and suspense as The Descent. The conclusion alludes to a military cover-up/conspiracy, but also feels predictable.
Final Verdict on The Lair
The Lair certainly isn’t Marshall’s strongest film. It contains a lot of gunfire, a simple plot, and some pretty forgettable characters. That said, it’s a serviceable creature feature with plenty of action, explosions, and bloodshed that suffices if you’re looking to shut your mind off for 90 minutes. Just doesn’t expect any nuanced characters. That said, Kirk certainly is a decent action/horror star, and it’s likely the collaborations between her and Marshall will continue. As difficult as it may be, go into this one without comparing it to Marshall’s earlier gems.
The Lair roars onto Shudder on January 26. For the latest on the streaming service’s release, follow my Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.