Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Neil Marshall’s The Lair

These American troops stationed in Afghanistan will find themselves in a tight spot. It is not as difficult a position as evacuating from Kabul airport after Biden shutdown the Bagram airfield, but it is still really bad. Along with a downed RAF officer, they find themselves stuck between Taliban insurgents and mutant monsters in Neil Marshall’s The Lair, which opens Friday in New York.

Lt. Kate Sinclair is a pilot, but she and her weapons systems officer fight like heck after their jet is shot down by the Taliban. Alas, he won’t back it, but somehow, she manages to take shelter in an old subterranean Soviet military installation. The Taliban were bad, but the monsters she sees down there really freak her out.

Sinclair is the widowed mother of little girl, so she finds a way to survive. However, the remote American outpost that takes her in is skeptical of all her monster talk, except maybe Major Roy Finch. It seems to ring a bell for him. Of course, when the creatures attack, they will ring a lot people’s bells.

Apparently, this all the result of some seriously evil Soviet military experiments. Easily the coolest idea Marshall and his co-screenwriter-lead thesp wife Charlotte Kirk come up with is the notion the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was really all about recovering and exploiting an alien UFO crash site.

The down side is the film’s cynical depiction of the American military. It is insulting to suggest a corporal would steal from a British officer in distress. Similarly, it is unlikely the most dysfunctional and disgraced officers and enlisted men serving in-theater would all be transferred to the same outpost, in the middle of insurgent territory.

Compared to
The Reckoning, Kirk’s previous film with Marshall, The Lair is a much better showcase for her. It certainly helps than she is more restrained and at least a little more glammed down as Sinclair. Most of the other soldiers are not given much by the way of personality, at least on the page, but Jonathan Howard and Leon Ockenden manage to invest some into Sgt. Tom Hook and Sgt. Oswald Jones, another lost Brit. Jamie Bramber is also entertainingly grizzled as hardnosed, hard-luck Maj. Finch.

The practical effects are still up to the standards of Marshall’s best films. An extended action sequence involving Humvee, a winch, and the elevator shaft of the secret Soviet base is also pretty effective. However, the film’s lack of military authenticity is a major drawback, perhaps fatally so.

In case it did not jump out at you,
The Lair serves as something of an homage to Marshall’s favorite film, Zulu, with the characters of Hook, Bromhead, and Jones inspired by historical figures depicted in Cy Endfield’s film. The Lair represents an improvement over The Reckoning, but we all deserve better portrayals of our American service personnel (and their British comrades-in-arms). Not recommended, The Lair opens Friday (1028) at the Cinema Village.