Lair movie review: A lack of narrative focus ruins what could have been compelling

Lily (Lara Mount) in Lair -- Courtesy of Laura Radford/1091 Pictures
Lily (Lara Mount) in Lair -- Courtesy of Laura Radford/1091 Pictures /

Can the devil make you commit murder? It’s a question believers have grappled with since the dawn of time and one that came into the public eye in the early 1980s during the infamous Arne Cheyenne Johnson trial, the first known court case in which the “devil made me do it” defense was used by attorneys. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It featured this story earlier this year, and now the recent horror the Lair movie carries a similar theme.

The movie begins with a brutal murder scene. Noted family man Ben (Ben Dollarhyde) kills his wife and his six-year-old son. While imprisoned, Ben tries to convince his friend Steven Caramore (Corey Johnson), a known scammer and amoral paranormal investigator, that it wasn’t him. Something got inside his head and forced him to slaughter his family.

Having conducted ample research into supposedly satanic artifacts, Caramore is the ideal person to investigate Ben’s claims. He sets up an “experiment” at his father’s empty apartment, renting out the flat to a family of London tourists visiting the area to celebrate Pride. Caramore places a few demonic artifacts inside the rental and a bunch of cameras to watch the family and see if anything supernatural occurs.

Unbeknownst to this family, consisting of gay couple Maria (Aislinn De’Ath) and Carly (Alana Wallace) and Maria’s daughters teenage Joey (Anya Newall) and the eight-year-old Lily (Lara Mount), they’ve just walked into a baited trap.

Lair movie review: Lair tries to mesh two storylines together and loses narrative focus

Let me start with what I loved about the Lair movie and what worked best for me. (Almost) everything involving the family is excellent. It’s scary, and there are some great jump scares, tension-building and usage of special effects. The actresses are all well-cast and do a fantastic job with the material, particularly De’Ath and Newall.

If Lair had taken out the stuff about Ben altogether and focused on Caramore trapping a family in a “lair” to create demonic events, he could record and make money off of, and the plot would have made more sense. Lair would have functioned as a tight and compelling thriller with slasher elements.

Unfortunately, that’s the main problem with this movie. It feels like the writers put two equally fascinating stories together to negate the best qualities of each one. I would have watched a film about a man accused of murder trying to prove an artifact made him do it, and I would have enjoyed the movie about a family being used as an experiment in paranormal activity.

lair movie
Lily (Lara Mount) in Lair — Courtesy of 1091 Pictures /

Together? They don’t work. Caramore is positioned as the film’s main character, but he’s detestable, and honestly, it feels like he belongs in a different movie altogether. The problem with Caramore’s character, apart from the cheesy and near-constant witticisms and pop culture references that don’t fit the movie’s grim-dark tone at all, is his motivations are all over the map.

His goal in using this family as lab rats is to make money by catching supernatural occurrences on camera and then selling the tapes. Oprah, book deals, buzzy Discovery channel television shows—Caramore wants it all.

Yet when supernatural stuff happens, and he does catch it on camera, he hides everything. Isn’t that exactly what he was after in the first place? I think the idea is that Caramore gets in over his head and thus backpedals on his original plan, but that doesn’t come across. The latter half of the movie gets confusing and loses the thread almost completely.

In short, when Lair works, it works well, but overall there are just too many plot holes created by a lack of narrative focus for this to be an enjoyable film.

Lair movie: From a queer perspective

I’m always excited to see gay characters in horror movies, but I was disappointed in how Maria and Carly were portrayed in this movie. At first, their relationship is loving, albeit there are obvious cracks in the facade. Maria is deeply insecure, and Carly is still trying to figure out how she fits into the family. There is an intimate scene that cuts away before the sex. Although there isn’t any nudity, it felt very much like it was for the male gaze—precisely because it was, with Caramore on the other side of the camera, watching them with a lascivious look on his face.

By the end of the movie, and this is a mild spoiler, although it doesn’t give away much, Carly falls into the “psychotic lesbian” trope basically out of nowhere. She suddenly hates Maria and her kids after spending the entire movie being a supportive and caring partner. Her heel-face turn didn’t feel realistic.

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The Lair movie is out now on-demand and digital.