Director: Neil Marshall
Writers: Neil Marshall, Charlotte Kirk
Cast: Charlotte Kirk, Jonathan Howard, Jamie Bamber, Tanji Kibong, Mark Strepan, Leon Ockenden, Hadi Khanjanpour
Producers: Daniel-Konrad Cooper
Music: Christopher Drake
Cinematographer: Luke Bryant
Editor: Neil Marshall
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 90mins
What’s the story: Afghanistan, 2017. Downed RAF pilot Lt. Sinclair (Kirk) discovers an abandoned bunker when fleeing insurgents. Inside are revealed lethal alien-human hybrids, the result of 1980s Soviet experiments. Sinclair, and a ragtag bunch of US and UK soldiers, are soon facing a new, even more dangerous enemy.
What’s the verdict: The Lair opened FrightFest 2020, and may be The Force Awakens of this year’s festival. Neither film has a single original idea, but are directed by filmmakers who know how to deliver a crowd pleaser, so a good time is guaranteed. More or less.
Director Marshall’s horror and action bona fides are beyond reproach. Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion, that battle on the wall Game of Thrones episode, and the sorely underrated Hellboy reboot all feature on his CV. And many DVD shelves. So, if he wants to have a good time riffing on everything from The Thing to Aliens to Zulu, who are we to stop him?
A slender plot has Kirk as crack RAF pilot Sinclair, on the run from insurgents when her plane is downed in Afghanistan. Chased into an abandoned Soviet bunker, she and her pursuers discover outsized alien warriors being held in cryogenic stasis. Until weapons are discharged and the enraged E.T.s are let loose.
Literally bumping into a US patrol, Sinclair is transported to a US Forces outpost populated by rejects and misfits. She informs Major Finch (Bamber) they have a big problem arriving any moment. Doubts from the Major and the motley crew of the outpost are put to rest when night falls and Sinclair’s warnings become reality.
Will the “dirty half dozen” of US troops and visiting SAS be able to withstand the alien hordes? Will the wobbly accents and various performances best described as spirited be as threatening as the outsized outer space opposition? Jonathan Howard, as US Sergeant Hook, takes home the acting honours by realising B-movie barminess works best when played straight. Tanji Kibong as a US grunt, Mark Strepan as a tired-eyed doctor, and Hadi Khanjanpour as a local who fills in some back story on the invaders, receive runner-up prizes. Although Leon Ockenden’s Welsh SAS hardman Jones, complete with a swing-for-the-fences accent, does bring Karl Urban in The Boys energy.
Not that Marshall wants you to take any of this seriously. The Lair should be taken as a party film, best enjoyed with mates, beer, and pizza on the lap. A comedic spin on The Thing’s autopsy scene sums up what all involved are aiming for.
Unsurprisingly, the film is most enjoyable in its action. Along with Gareth Evans, for hi-octane, ballistic mayhem Marshall is probably the best British director currently working. Zulu is an obvious influence here (character names are lifted and shifted from that film to this one), and a midpoint assault on the outpost is the movie’s highlight. While the climax never reaches the same level, enough prosthetic make-up FX work splatters across the screen to send everyone home happy.
Ultimately, The Lair is enough to be getting on with until Marshall’s next big movie.