Review: Adam Ethan Crow’s ‘Lair’

Lair Movie Review - 2021 Adam Ethan Crow Film

Like so many just-ok horror flicks, Lair falls victim to genre cliches and tonal inconsistencies. It’s a shame because there’s plenty to enjoy during the first 60 minutes of the film, a story about paranormal activity in a London flat. Writer-director Adam Ethan Crow loads up the first act with dark comedy and sharp one-liners, which informs the audience about what to expect moving forward. But there’s always one extra zinger that feels out of place. Naturalism evolves into awkward camp; the main source of comic relief turns into a lazy archetype. Lair loses its edge.

Lair stars Corey Johnson as Steven Caramore, a TV producer who shamelessly exploits paranormal activity trends. He attempts to avoid legal issues after a colleague (Oded Fehr as Ben Dollarhyde) kills his family and claims that he was possessed by a mysterious artifact that Steven planted in his home. Caramore, hoping to clear his name, uses his father’s abandoned London apartment as a paranormal activity testing ground. He sets up a surveillance room and rents an adjacent flat to a recently-divorced woman named Maria Engel (Aislinn De’Ath) and her girlfriend, Carly (Alana Wallace). Caramore observes the women, along with Maria’s daughters — Josephine aka Joey (Anya Newall) and Lilly (Lara Mount) — while trying to debunk Dollarhyde’s claims.

Lair Movie Review - 2021 Adam Ethan Crow Film

Lair mostly works for the first hour, primarily because of strong character development. For example, Crow ensures that audiences can identify with each of the main female protagonists — Maria worries about about familial harmony; she wants everyone to be happy, all the time, and gets flustered by obstacles (presumably because she’s emotionally drained after a divorce). In contrast, Carly plays it cool; she’s a stoner in a leather jacket, a woman who seems relaxed but actually has some unresolved anger issues. Meanwhile, young Lilly talks to stuffed animals (just like a regular kid), while the angsty teenager Joey wears a Bone Harvest t-shirt and parties with local lads. Crow clearly knows his female characters; they are well-written and come to life organically.

De’Ath arguably provides the most nuanced performance in Lair, evidenced by her ability to communicate a sense of constant anxiety. As for Wallace, she steals various scenes with her presence alone, aside from amplifying all the personality traits that arguably make Carly a real-life monster, especially when considering a violent incident with a younger character. However, it’s Newall — in her feature debut — who displays the most star power as Joey, a character who looks somewhat like It’s Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) and Sharp Objects’ Amma Crellin (Eliza Scanlen) but carries herself with Scarlett Johansson-like confidence. Newall seems destined to lead a Young Adult series a la Stranger Things, but there is indeed one particularly rough acting moment in Lair, in which a possessed male character heads towards a window and Joey wails away without communicating anything non-verbally. It’s almost like she wants the poor guy to jump. In such a moment, a young actress such as Newall needs real guidance from the director, in terms of linking the character’s headspace with the actual physical space of the scene.

Lair Movie Review - 2021 Adam Ethan Crow Film

Similarly, many second-half moments in Lair needed better performance direction or needed to be cut entirely. When a monster inevitably emerges and slaughters a human being, Caramore calls his buddy and casually says “That creature went through them like a knife through fucking butter!” It’s hard to take Lair seriously at this point, as the one-liner seems more important than the storytelling. The dialogue gels with the character’s personality, but it makes no sense for the scene whatsoever. It gets worse from there. Caramore shakes in fear and clutches a bottle of booze. He eats loudly and obnoxiously — a familiar and lazy archetype trope that conveys what the audience already knows. The lack of character nuance is troubling, especially when Caramore has so many standout moment early on. Most importantly, it takes away from effective jump scares and the collective female performances, which are so crucial to the final act. Lair would have been much more entertaining if Crow and Johnson really swung for the fences and went all in with the absurdity of the character, even if that involved additional rapid-fire one-liners. Instead, there’s a hard character demeanor shift from cocky and aloof to scared and fragile. Lair succeeds with its female-led possession story but fails with the flat adjacent flat subplot.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.