What happens when you take the core concept of ghost-hunting (a la the Warrens as portrayed in James Wan’s The Conjuring and its sequel) and completely invert its tropes? Then what if you blur the lines between good and evil in the process? You get Lair, marking writer-director Adam Ethan Crow’s feature-length debut. The film explores the fraught life of morally grey paranormal debunking specialist Dr. Steven Caramore (Corey Johnson, Jackie). His friend and partner-in-crime Ben (Oded Fehr, Resident Evil: Retribution) is on trial for murdering his entire family, a crime he insists was committed when he was supernaturally possessed. Desperate to get answers, Caramore ends up dragging an unwitting family, with the baggage of their own, down an endless nightmare with no way out.
The Family and the Creepy House Set-Up
Lair’s first act is a smart, if unevenly acted, meta-text exploring the logical pitfalls of the “Family Moves Into a Creepy House” trope.
Before their future guinea pigs move into the apartment he’s set up, an argument between Caramore and his ally ensues. The placement of a potentially dangerous paranormal object—a doll— is the problem. The former explains to the latter that the home is supposed to look lived in, not obtrusive to the naked eye. The scene could’ve easily been played for laughs to a cringeworthy degree, but it’s played super straight.
The humor is still right there, but it doesn’t come at the cost of what a tense moment it actually is.
Hiccups in the Family
It’s unfortunate that the “Family” in and of itself is played by actors that don’t always nail the emotion in the first half. While Anya Newall delivers a strong and consistent turn as the older daughter, Alana Wallace, and Aislinn De’Ath as the new couple aren’t exactly as convincing in their first few scenes as one would like them to be. The inconsistency makes for a lot of their expository dialogue to sound like a hollow backstory—even if it’s a showcase in restrained exposition on paper.
This is a minor hiccup though. De’Ath and Wallace deliver a knockout emotional range as the tension dials right up to eleven around the second half. Cinematographer Stuart Nicholas White heavily plays up the traditional atmospheric beats of horror. Whether through lighting, framing, or movement—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if done right. White’s vision lends a great deal of focus to the film and gives its moody vibe a much-deserved edge.
A Twist in the Narrative
A particularly bold storytelling decision made toward Lair’s final act abruptly fractures its narrative linearity—which may or may not bode well, depending on which viewer watches it. It does make for an interesting shakeup from the contained nature of the haunted-house trope, shifting back and forth between parallel timelines till a resolution is made, with a closing twist that feels both unearned and unoriginal.
In spite of the inconsistent first and last acts, there’s enough style in Lair to make anybody sit up and notice. There’s a lot of love for the craft and the genre to find in this movie, and that’s more than enough to coast horror fans and interested viewers through its bumpy patches.
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