review by Diablo Joe
Haunted objects terrorizing good people. It’s a classic trope of horror and horror films, and to make a new take on the subject stand out, you have two fundamental choices you can make. Give it a wholly original twist or scare the living daylights out of your audience. Best to do both if you can. “Lair” dearly wishes that it could do both.
A fraudulent, unscrupulous ghost hunter drags a divorced mother, her two daughters, and her girlfriend into his scheme to prove the paranormal exists. The family’s drama and tension become fodder for the demonic force haunting a relic statue that Caramore has placed in the family’s home. Will Caramore allow this evil to wreak havoc and horror on these innocent women in his quest to save a friend accused of murder?
Let’s address “Lair’s” most significant problem: Caramore. Played as a sweaty, spittle-laden wiseass by Corey Johnson, best known as “Hellboy’s” Agent Clay in addition to numerous heavies, the character is thoroughly unlikeable. Though Caramore should be unpleasant, he is grating—and grotesque— to the point of annoyance. Almost every line is a pithy and vulgar bon mot (the classic? “His case has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese at a hooker convention.”). We spend more than half the film with this asshole, and it’s not the sort of discomfort you actually want in a horror film.
The film’s other major flaw is its desire to pack so much into one movie. The result is a jumbled, convoluted mess of a story that never locks into its own internal logic enough to feel confident in what it’s presenting. There are tons of red herrings and unexplained threats that never gel together. “Lair” expects us to assume things are what they are, but without any backstory or explanation. It often seems to be a sequel to a film never made. When the movie reveals that much of its events are being pre-engineered, it’s a hard pill to swallow because none of the pieces really fit—some even seem tossed in from another puzzle box.
Outside of Johnson, much of the rest of the cast is likable and quite good, particularly Lara Mount as the youngest daughter, Lily. But their characters are often given to rapid swings from rabid fear to abject apathy. Some are supposed to be the demon’s influence, but it’s often sloppy character logic. Oded Fehr, Ardeth Bey in 1999’s “The Mummy,” plays Caramore’s friend and associate, accused of killing his family but claiming it was the work of the demon. This charismatic actor is only in the film’s opening, and the inclusion of a credit for “Dollarhyde Stand In” suggests his shadow-draped cameo might be even briefer than it appears.
Toward the end, there is one truly starting and disturbing scare that hits like a gut punch. It’s unexpected and unsettling. Sadly, it’s also an outlier in a film that just never pulls its horror together enough to overcome its faults. Alone, it’s hardly worth the price of admission and certainly not sufficient repayment for “Lair’s” off-putting lead character.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Lair” two out of 5 imps.
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