When you move into a new apartment, nothing is more aggravating than discovering it’s infested with creepy crawlies…
…Worse than that is finding out your new place is home to a rage demon.
Worse than that is when you learn your sleazy landlord purposely set said demon upon you and has the place rigged with hidden cameras to watch you at all times.
That cold shiver you just got? That’s the feeling that director Adam Ethan Crow’s Lair intends to send down your spine. But intentions are always easier said than done.
Written by Crow and Stuart Wright, Lair follows Steven (Corey Johnson), a slime ball paranormal investigator—at least I think so, because it’s not all that clear—who finds himself in a predicament when his partner Ben (Oded Fehr) ends up in jail for murdering his family and claiming he was possessed by a demon which Steven helped unleash. Desperate to make a little cash—and maybe help Ben while he’s at it—Steven sets up an abandoned apartment building with hidden cameras with the plan of renting it out, introducing supposedly possessed objects to his tenants to find out which one is actually cursed, and present the evidence.
Following along so far? Just typing all of that made me droopy-eyed.
Lair is, as you can probably tell, an incredibly convoluted tale that does the audience the disservice of providing hardly any information while dropping the bare bones of the plot at our doorstep and asking us to piece together the rest.
After a frightening opening in which a possessed Ben attacks his wife and little boy, we’re immediately taken to Steven visiting Ben in a cell. Mario Grigorov and Steven Schwalbe’s ghostly score and shadowy lighting create a spooky atmosphere that leans heavily into the mysterious side. You could argue though that Lair is a little too mysterious.
During Steven and Ben’s conversation, Ben mumbles a whole lot of mumbo jumbo and there’s talk of “you did this” and “demon possessed that”, but there’s not an entirely clear read on what their relationship is or what in the hell they’re talking about. By film’s end, I still wasn’t all that positive. Lair offers the vaguest of setups, and only finds itself becoming more lost—along with the audience—as we’re never given even a hint of what the demonic presence is, what it wants or why it does what it does. This is horror and we never want too many answers for fear of spoiling the unknown, but some lore is always welcome, and Lair has none.
Even The Exorcist, the scariest possession film of all time, gave us something to work with.
Failing to engage the audience early on as well is dialogue that often feels forced and unnatural. Steven is a no-nonsense character with a penchant for sarcasm—lines like “giving a fuck doesn’t really go with my outfit” cracked me up—but Johnson goes overboard with the performance. Every one of his lines is attempting to be a one-liner, and at a certain point the “jokes” just become exhausting. Funnier than your average dad joke, but excessive nonetheless.
Character development isn’t really the space Lair is renting out, but Steven’s unknowing tenants, mother Maria (Aislinn De’Ath), her girlfriend Carly (Alana Wallace), teen daughter Joey (Anya Newall) and little girl Lilly (Lara Mount), all have a much more interesting dynamic…at first. Dad is no longer in the picture, and Joey is having a hard time taking to Maria’s new bae, which isn’t easy on Maria or Carly, who just wants to be accepted as part of the family. It’s your average rebellious teen daughter hates everyone scenario, but one that’s brought to life with emotionally believable performances from all four women.
What isn’t so believable are the sudden descents into insanity which some of the characters face thanks to their demonic roommate, which flip so quickly without gradual changes such as Nicholson in The Shining that instead of drawing the audience deeper into the madness, we’re more caught off guard and confused than anything. It's a play on our inner demons, without really exploring what those inner demons are.
It would be one thing if Lair made up for its awkward narrative with good, quality scares, but attempts at getting under the viewer’s skin are often clumsy and ineffective. One moment involves a poorly edited cat scare in which a cat meows off-screen to the sound of a stinger, instead of the tried and true “cat leaps out of thin air” method. Cat scares are as plain as they come, but when the film doesn’t even get those right, it has a nasty hairball of a problem.
The demon itself, at least, is one area where Lair mostly gets it right. Some of you are going to be frustrated that we rarely get a glimpse at what’s haunting the apartment, but sometimes less is more and the attacks by the demon are so vicious that you’ll be too shocked by the tearing apart of bodies and the thing whipping around the place at the speed of Superman to care. Lair goes for so long with so little occurring—the women don’t encounter much of anything spooky until about an hour in—that it comes as a bloody surprise when the thing makes an appearance and the gore begins to fly. There is an anger that rests within the family, and their demon is a ruthless monster that embodies all of that rage and then some.
Lair could've used a lot more of that. This is one movie that doesn’t indulge its monster enough to save itself from an otherwise bland execution.
The film has its charm in its own absurdity—Steven getting caught pouring salt outside the apartment door only for the family to catch him and not think much of it sure is something—but it lacks the possessing quality needed to deliver the gut-wrenching punch it takes a swing with.
Lair is now available on VOD from 1091.
By Matt Konopka