Neil Marshall started off with quite a track record The descent and Dog Soldiers, two of the best creature features of the past 20 years. In 2020 he returned with his historical horror film The Bill, starring his partner, Charlotte Kirk. The couple’s latest project, The caveagain plays Kirk, who also co-wrote the film with Marshall.
For those hoping for a different version of The descent, this movie will disappoint. shiver however, the latest is still a decent creature feature with some gnarly gore and a few evil-looking monsters. It’s certainly not Marshall’s best yet, but it’s something to whip up late on a Saturday night with a six-pack and pizza. Just go into it without comparing it to the director’s previous work.
A woman in a man’s world
Kirk stars as Capt. Kate SInclair, whose plane is shot down over Afghanistan. unlike The descentfeaturing an all-female cast trapped in caves and hunted by vicious predators, The cave places Capt. Sinclair in a man’s world. In fact, the only other woman Corp. Jade Lafayette, played by Kibong Tanji. Both females can hold their own, including fending off advances from the males. Still, it feels like there’s a missed opportunity for more character development and conflict here. We have little idea of how both women feel in an almost all-male unit. That said, at least a majority of male soldiers aren’t creeps.
Furthermore, I would have liked a little more interaction between the two women. They certainly have scenes together, but there was potential to develop that dynamic more. The movie doesn’t necessarily need a feminist undertone, but it’s heavy on the action and quite light on plot and character development. That said, both women could easily pick up a gun and blow away the horde of monsters hiding in Soviet-era bunkers.
The Lair is half human, half alien
The monsters aren’t as impressive as the predators in The descent or the werewolves in it Dog Soldiers, but they’re still pretty cool. One even rips off a man’s face. The monsters are half-human, half-alien hybrids who have been hiding in bunkers since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. This is a cool concept, but again, it feels like another missed opportunity. There was a serious opportunity to explore the legacy of war and empire in Afghanistan, first the Soviet occupation and then the US occupation after 9/11. The monsters are part of that legacy in this world, but Marshall doesn’t do much with it. There’s even a character, Hadi, played by Kabir Abdul Rahimi, who joins the soldiers to mow down the monsters. He talks about the Soviet invasion and his childhood memories, but these scenes are short and sweet. This is a character that deserved more attention. He has more substance compared to the other characters and a story to tell about the contemporary history of his country.
To the harshest of critics, I suspect the creatures will look like a B-movie, man-in-a-suit kind of deal, but they’re still pretty vicious and even have gruesome tongues that can choke people. My biggest gripe is that in Marshall’s film they don’t really serve as a metaphor for much of anything. They are simply there to attack and increase the number of deaths and carnage. And while there are several sequences where the survivors follow the monsters into the bunkers, it never reaches that level of claustrophobia and suspense as The descent. The conclusion alludes to a military cover-up/conspiracy, but also feels predictable.
Final verdict on The Lair
The cave is certainly not Marshall’s strongest film. It features a lot of gunfire, a simple plot, and some pretty forgettable characters. That said, it’s a serviceable creature feature with plenty of action, explosions, and gore that’s enough if you want to shut your mind off for 90 minutes. Just don’t expect nuanced characters. That said, Kirk is certainly a decent action/horror star, and it’s likely that her and Marshall’s collaboration will continue. Hard as it is, go into this without comparing it to Marshall’s earlier gems.
The cave roars shudder on January 26. Follow my Shudder Secrets column for the latest on the streaming service’s release.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The L.A. Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, horror living room, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in movie theater with his wife or curling up on the couch and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.