Neil Marshall is a director whose new movie I always look forward to, being capable as few others to mix action, horror, and adventure like in The Lair, released in theaters in 2022.
A story that, at first glance, merely rehashes many stereotypes we already know from many others like it and within a low-budget production, but of course, we never judge a gift by its packaging.
In a nutshell, it revolves around the beautiful Lieutenant Sinclair, a brave Royal Air Force pilot shot down in the middle of enemy territory on Afghan soil.
Fleeing the insurgent pack that wants to tear her apart, she ends up inside a Russian-era bunker that has remained shut down for more than 30 years, where she discovers some tanks containing giant, monstrous humanoid-looking beings.
During the shootout against the enemy, the tanks shatter into a thousand pieces, and the creatures are unleashed, starting to kill anyone indifferently, regardless of the uniform color.
Fortunately, Sinclair and the rebel driver escape, ending up in the hands of an American patrol that takes them to their miserable and isolated base camp.
Of course, no one wants to believe them when they talk about what they saw, except that the monsters will attack the base that same night, effortlessly slaughtering most of the soldiers.
At that point, the few survivors must join forces and make a common front, including the Afghan driver, fighting a dark secret from the distant past of the Russian invasion of that country, which they will learn was a cover war for an even more dangerous enemy.
Are You Not Entertained?
I have no idea how the relationship between Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk works outside of the cinematic context. Still, I can say with certainty that their creative synergy has produced movies that I have so far always enjoyed, such as The Reckoning and the more recent The Lair of 2022.
However, I notice a curious trend with each of their movie releases: a kind of resistance from a large audience sector.
Although these people always recognize and appreciate Marshall’s mastery, unchanged over time, there is always some irritation with Kirk, whose dual role as lead actress and co-writer seems to inspire disapproval.
While telling an alien and monstrous storyline, The Lair still maintains a light and fun soul typical of the 70s and 80s era, not to mention its moments of genuine horror and tension.
Moreover, the screenplay offers an unusual interpretation of the Afghanistan war of the 1990s, this time revised through the creative sci-fi lens.
Also, within the herd of these warriors, there are no entirely positive characters or absolute truth holders. Instead, it is a gallery of men and women, each with their own imperfections, inclined to make mistakes even in the most intense moments of crisis.
However, their disposition for mutual sacrifice emerges as the most authentic value, and in the end, that is all that matters.
The movie is full of exciting and entertaining shootouts and fights, although fortunately, the CGI shines in its almost total absence, making the splatter horror sequences acquire a vivid intensity in the bloody practical effects directly realized on the set.
Thereby, those who believe that expensive digital special effects are indispensable should sometimes accept the more traditional and realistic techniques, because, in the end, what matters is what Russell Crowe said in Gladiator: Are You Not Entertained?
Soldiers on an unintentional Suicide Squad
Let’s turn to some of the central figures I most enjoyed in this adventure, outsiders who happen to step into the heroes’ shoes more out of desperate necessity than a conscious decision.
Obviously, at the forefront is always Charlotte Kirk, perhaps at times with an overly severe attitude while it could have been more easygoing, whose performance, however, is no worse from established male action stars such as Jason Statham or Keanu Reeves as John Wick.
Helping her in the endeavor is the valiant Jonathan Howard as Sgt. Tom Hook almost immediately becomes Kirk’s relentless right-hand man, even though he would technically be in charge when his superior decides to sacrifice by jumping with a grenade at the aliens.
Of course, it would be unfair for Kirk to be the only British soldier, so we also have the eccentric Jamie Bamber as Major Roy Finch as another circumstantial hero, caught up in events beyond the ordinary in a remote corner of the world.
Among the others, the funniest is undoubtedly the exuberant actress Kibong Tanji, who brings to life the battling Jade Lafayette, a compulsive soldier and thief who steals anything and then denies it with absolute ease.
Finally, let’s talk about Hadi Khanjanpour, a prisoner who initially does not seem to offer much yet grows and becomes an interesting character when his tragic past interweaves the actual history of the invasion with the sci-fi elements of the aliens’ arrival.
If you really want and must, you can call The Lair just one of the many B movies of 2022; however, when I see Neil Marshall‘s name, I will always return that child sitting in the movie theater with a bucket of popcorn, waiting for that show that this director always knows how to provide.