Review: Lair (2021)

Featured image: Kashif O’Connor as Ola and Corey Johnson as Steven Caramore in Lair. (Courtesy of © 2021 Ditto Films Ltd, Photo by Laura Radford).

Directed by Adam Ethan Crow. Written by Adam Ethan Crow, with additional material by Stuart Wright. Starring Corey Johnson, Aislinn De’Ath, Alana Wallace. Runtime 1h 36 min. Released November 9, 2021.

Adam Ethan Crow’s Lair adopts the formula of a standard haunted house picture, adding his own spin as the film opens with Ben Dollarhyde (Oded Fehr) killing his family and then telling his colleague, Steven Caramore (Corey Johnson), that a demon possessed him and made him do it. We learn that Caramore left a haunted artifact in Dollarhyde’s home, and Dollarhyde believes this to be the reason of the possession.

Their actual occupation is kept vague, but they seem to be businessmen exploiting haunted artifacts… somehow. What we do know is that Caramore has the makings of a shady con man, and works with the paranormal but actually does not buy what he’s selling (“We never believed that bullshit, it was always about a paycheck,” he says). His job is simply to make others believe. At least I think that’s his job.

Corey Johnson is not bad as the character of Caramore, but I hated the character from the first scene (if that’s Ethan Crow’s objective, he nails it). In his first five minutes on screen, he has a fight with Dollarhyde’s lawyer, Wendy Coulson (Alexandra Gilbreath). Wendy’s not likable, but she’s the one telling Caramore, “I’d unplug your life support to charge my phone.” Honestly, I’m right there with her within minutes of knowing him.

Oded Fehr as Ben Dollarhyde in Lair. (Courtesy of © 2021 Ditto Films Ltd, Photo by Laura Radford.)

Their conversation inspires Caramore to set out to prove the existence of the supernatural to get Dollarhyde out of jail. With the type of man he is, he’s in it for the paycheck and not for Dollarhyde (case in point: we never see Dollarhyde again). His business model doesn’t make sense, either, but all his eyes see are dollar signs, viral videos, book deals, and primetime TV interviews.

His plan is set in motion when a fractured family moves into his Airbnb and Caramore sets up cameras in the flat. Think The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It meets Vacancy, as he tries to capture the supernatural on tape. When the family moves in, he plans on giving them new, haunted artifacts each night to see which latches onto them.

This fractured family features Maria Engles (Aislinn De’Ath), her new wife Carly (Alana Wallace), Maria’s oldest daughter Joey (Anya Newall) and youngest daughter Lilly (Lara Mount). They’re fine, though when it comes to the drama between Maria and Carly, it’s either uninteresting or irritating. A main argument is their different ideas of how to parent, where Carly wants to be the cool Mom to Joey and let her party, but Maria looks like the bad guy because she’s responsible. Frankly, they’re not much more interesting than Caramore, but his character is the one who sinks the film.

Corey Johnson as Steven Caramore in Lair. (Courtesy of © 2021 Ditto Films Ltd, photo by Laura Radford.)

He just doesn’t make sense. When something happens that’s beyond what Caramore planned – keep in mind, he unleashed a vicious spirit upon the family – Caramore tries to distance himself and justify his actions. “If someone films a car crash on a phone camera, you don’t prosecute the guy with the phone,” he says, even though he’s the one responsible for this “car crash.”

His character convolutes the film, to a point where it sadly feels that Adam Ethan Crow wrote himself into a corner. Things are much simpler if both Caramore and Dollarhyde are written out entirely; as there’s a good film in here, but Caramore is what stops them from finding it. At its current stage, Lair is underwritten. Caramore gives the family new artifacts but only ever offers background on the killer doll (and only because he’s caught in his lies).

He seems to be pulling these artifacts from Ed and Lorraine Warren’s bag of tricks; and after the doll, he gives Lilly a teddy bear and then hides a Mother Mary statuette under a bed. These haunted objects are thrown into the fray without explanation. Even some exposition or a creepy story would have packed a punch, especially when the ghost finally makes its glorified cameo. In general, the film has a lot of merit to thinking outside the box, and it’s admirable trying to do something different. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It meets Vacancy is something that could plausibly work. However, doing something different doesn’t matter when it doesn’t make sense.

To leave this on a good note, the production design is strong as the setting of the film is one you’d see in a 1970’s ghost story. I love the European aesthetic. As well, with Lair, Ethan Crow shows he and his team are more than capable of shooting effective horror.  Even if the CGI effects are wonky, it’s neat seeing the ghost move and Ethan Crow and cinematographer Stuart Nicholas White are a strong pair. They can creep out audiences, and when we reach those ghost scenes in the third act, it’s surprisingly and delightfully brutal. However, by then, it’s too late with how much the rest of the script misses the mark.

Score: 38/100

Lair was released on digital formats on November 9, 2021, and can be rented on platforms like Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and more.

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