The Lair Director Neil Marshall and Star Charlotte Kirk on Collaborating as a Couple
Dec 25, 2022
The Lair has a tremendous premise — in the 1980s, when Soviet troops were invading Afghanistan and fighting the Mujahideen, they set up a military bunker that doubled as a scientific outpost. When Gorbachev withdrew forces in the late ’80s, this labyrinthine underground lair was left behind, only to be rediscovered 30 years later during the much bigger war involving Afghanistan. Evading a group of insurgents after being shot down, a pilot hides out in the bunker and discovers the awful developments some Soviet scientists had made.
It’s a really neat concept, conducive to some great creature designs, intense action sequences, and wonderful settings, and was co-written by Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk. Marshall, best known for the one-two punch of his first films Dog Soldiers and The Descent, has had a great history of combining horror with exciting action set pieces (also seen in the underrated Doomsday), something which continues in The Lair.
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His films have changed slightly, though, ever since he and Kirk fell in love on the set of his David Harbour-led Hellboy. The Lair is the second film they’ve written together after The Reckoning, and they’ve already worked on a third, Duchess, with Kirk starring in all. She’s kind of become the Karina to his Godard, or the Gerwig to his Baumbach. Marshall and Kirk spoke with MovieWeb about The Lair, their collaborations, and their influences.
Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk Are a Collaborating Couple
On the face of it, Kirk and Marshall are an interesting pair, two English individuals who have had vastly different lives. Much has been written about their relationship, but without getting into the tawdry tabloids of industry tumult, suffice it to say that they seem to gel well, both creatively and personally.
“We’re kind of so diametrically opposed in terms of some of our creative ideas, that we bounce off each other quite a lot,” said Marshall. “We come from different backgrounds, mine is more of a horror background, and I’ve had fun introducing Charlotte to a lot of horror films, which are now some of your favorite movies, which is awesome.” Kirk agreed with a nod, saying, “The Thing, which is a big inspiration to [The Lair].”
Related: Dog Soldiers 2 Is Finally a Possibility Says Original Director Neil Marshall
For her part, Kirk is very happy to work with the well-known filmmaker and to actually be heard by him. “I have absolute respect and absolutely love Neil’s work, and I’m absolutely grateful,” said Kirk emphatically. “I appreciate that you allow me and trust me to collaborate with you because obviously, Neil has a lot more experience than me as a writer and filmmaker, but he’s trusted me with his vision. Now, before this, I was just acting. I hadn’t actually written a script before this, so I learned so much on the production side as well as the writing side. And yes, it’s an absolute honor for me to work with Neil as partners really.”
The differences between the two have actually helped. “I’m often thinking of things in terms of action and effects on the technical side of things, camera work and all that kind of stuff,” said Marshall. “Then [Charlotte] will talk about character, about motivations and the drama, and talk about all these other layers that have to go into it. And I think that we kind of feed off each other in that way very, very well. And it’s also just fun. At the end of the day, it’s fun — you get to work with your best mate.”
The Lair Finds Kirk Fighting Monsters in Afghanistan
In The Lair, Kirk plays Lt. Kate Sinclair, a Royal Air Force pilot who is shot down and hunted by some militia or terrorist group. After she stumbles into the bunker, a firefight with the men unleashes a group of monstrous mutants which were being developed by the Soviets in the ’80s. Emerging from their suspended animation, these massive, muscular beasts seem programmed to hunt and kill anyone. Sinclair escapes and is picked up by soldiers on reconnaissance and taken to a nearby U.S. military outpost during the global ‘war on terror.’ It’s here, a place where the military tends to send their misfit screw-ups, that the soldiers must do battle with monsters.
The creature design and practical effects are often excellent in The Lair, and the violent action is intense and well-staged, as anyone familiar with Marshall’s work would guess. Here, though, Marshall is fully embracing the slightly over-the-top, B-movie spectacle of ’80s genre mash-ups like Predator, Alien, and The Keep. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, allowing it (and Marshall himself) to have a lot of fun.
Related: The Lair Review: Military Versus Monsters in Neil Marshall’s Creature Feature
“It’s like a B-movie,” said Marshall. “I always had it in my head that I wanted to make a great B-movie because some of my favorite movies of all time are great B-movies. And that’s not to be derogatory in any kind of way. It’s a certain kind of film that is genre but fun, and has cracking one-liners, gore, and action, and it just delivers the goods without being in any way kind of pretentious. And that’s what I set out to achieve somehow, and kept that firmly in mind.”
Marshall and Kirk Have B-Movie Fun in The Lair
Marshall and Kirk were following the surprisingly serious, gothic, and gloomy film The Reckoning, and it seemed like a bit of fun was the change of pace that they needed. If The Descent and The Reckoning represent the serious side of Marshall’s sensibilities, then Dog Soldiers, Doomsday, and The Lair show how much fun Marshall has when he injects a little levity and embraces the B-picture sentiment. Marshall continued:
I just wanted to have fun, mainly because I wanted to give the audience a lot of fun as well. I want them to understand that my tongue is firmly in cheek with this one. And you kind of know that as soon as Jamie Bamber walks on screen with his eye patch, you know, it’s like the only thing he’s missing as a cigar. I hope people get that that’s what it’s meant to be. We’re not trying to take it super seriously. But also at the same time, any humor comes down to the characters and not the situations. You don’t mock the situation; the characters can mock the situation, but you don’t mock the situation as a filmmaker […] It’s gallows humor.
Kirk was in the interesting position of both co-writing a film which is intentionally a B-picture, but also starring as a character who has to take it seriously as if she’s reacting to the real situation. “When I was writing it, I knew what it was, but when I was preparing for the role and acting in the role, I just didn’t even think of that,” said Kirk “Whatever it is, I come at it the same way. This is my character. This is who I am. And this is a real situation. You know, she’s trying to survive in Afghanistan. When I was writing it, certainly I knew what it was, and I knew really it was going back to Neil’s roots as well.”
“I think that is the key,” added Marshall, “is that the actors are playing it straight.”
Neil Marshall on the Curse of the Descent and Moving Forward
Marshall’s career has been a fascinating one to follow. That early, very serious film, The Descent, received universal critical acclaim, but the curse of a masterpiece is the expectation of similarities. Marshall, however, continued to diversify, making very different and arguably less stoic and allegorical films with relentless psychological probing. As a result, critics who were conditioned to expect The Descent again and again haven’t always responded kindly to Marshall’s entertaining movies, and the era of his relationship and collaboration with Kirk hasn’t changed anything. This is unfortunate because there’s a lot to be discovered in these movies.
“I’ve always tried to kind of block it out,” said Marshall, referring to the critical response. “It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. It’s like I’m incredibly proud of the response that I’ve had for The Descent, but at the same time, it does feel like everything is going to be compared to it […] but that’s the odd one out. It’s kind of the most serious, very straight film. It has got some humor in it, but not a lot. And then people expect you to do the same thing again and again and again. Cursed if you do, cursed if you don’t. It’s like, if I just try to emulate that for the rest of my career, then that wouldn’t have gone down too well either.”
At the end of the day, Marshall believes that he needs to follow his own instincts and vision rather than conform to critical acclaim. “I’d rather try new things, different genres and different stories. That’s what I always intended to do, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a horror director per se. I’d much rather be known as an action director, because I think that’s actually the consistent thing of all my movies. If I want to be known as anything, it’s that, but I just want to keep on challenging myself with different stories, characters, and sometimes you just want to have fun.”
“With The Lair,” continued Marshall, “we just wanted to have some riotous fun with action and gore and monsters and all sorts of things like that. And that was absolutely the intention […] I like to find humor in situations or through characters specifically, how characters react to situations is usually a great source of humor for me. I don’t know, I think I do have a particular brand of humor. Just not everybody gets it.” Fortunately, Charlotte Kirk gets it, and the many fans who get it, too, should expect to have more fun with their films for years to come.
The Lair, which premiered in the UK at FrightFest, will be released by RLJE Films in theaters, On Demand, and digital on October 28th and Shudder will release the film in early 2023.
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