There are no hard rules to making a horror movie. Let’s dispel that idea right now. While there are conceits, concepts, and tropes, the genre is much more malleable than it’s given credit for. But, generally, it’s a good idea to not give away the ending fifteen minutes before the end.
LAIR, a horror-thriller where self-proclaimed occult expert and skeptic “Dr. Steven Caramore” is on a mission to prove the innocence on a gruesome murder charge of his colleague “Ben Dollarhyde” by renting out and spying on a family, revenge porn style, in a flat filled with proposed cursed and possessed items. It’s not a bad logline for a haunt movie. The Conjuring series and Insidious basically cornered the market on haunted homes, much like Poltergeist did in the ‘80s, and audiences have come to expect some form of the classic Conjuring vibe in any demon ghost movie. Taking that concept and flipping the occult expert to attempting to disprove the supernatural is a small but refreshing adjustment.
But, aside from the premise, LAIR makes no other attempts to flip the script on a classic horror trope. In fact, for most of the runtime, it’s not really a horror film at all.
Written and directed by Adam Ethan Crow, this being his first feature, LAIR acts as a thriller slowly revealing intrigue, introducing shadowy characters, and helmed by a lead (Corey Johnson as “Steve Caramore”) who’s less the skeptic version of Patrick Wilson’s “Ed Warren” and more a noir detective. In fact, nothing “horror” really happens until past halfway in the film and, even after that point, moments of fear and tension are far and few between. At least, for the audience. The characters display rising unease, stress, and possibly possession, or maybe everyone’s just a jerk. It’s truly hard to tell.
Because that’s the thing with shooting horror. It’s what the audience didn’t see… and what they thought they saw. Not just a monster in the closet. There are no true rules to horror, a horror movie doesn’t even have to be lit dark (Midsommar proved that with its perpetually sunlit despair) but a good horror movie remembers that the shots are the audience’s eyes, not just scenes. Films like The Conjuring, Insidious, Poltergeist, The Blair Witch Project, and all the way back to Kubrick’s The Shining took the viewer around the corner, whipped a shadow across the dresser, or popped open the eyes of a demon in the shadows just before we pan away. LAIR has very few (if any) of these touches, the moments that build the dread. Camera angles, the score, the lighting, even the editing all scream “thriller” not horror. Characters are shot to get them in frame, not to twist the audience’s perspective. Scenes are lit super dark with one light source or so bright the lightbox might as well have been in the shot. And creature scenes just… happen. Very little build-up, no fake-out. In and out, demon quick and dirty.
LAIR has some good moments. Something bursting out of the tub when the aforementioned character was having her dramatic bubble bath was great. The teenage daughter slipping in an unseen pool of blood, leaving a bloody handprint on the hallway wall as she runs away in panic. And, again, the concept of a skeptic occult expert leaving possessed items in a rental to see if anything will happen to vacationing family is really intriguing.
And then a time jump spoils the ending fifteen minutes before the end leaving the audience to live first in the future, seeing what happened, then sitting through the scene of it happening.
No, horror has no real rules and that’s what makes it great. Whether there’s no budget or high budget, an iPhone or Fujifilm X-T4, full-creature suits, or nothing seen at all; any direction can produce a decent scary movie IF there’s care to remembering who’s watching.
And not giving away the ending.
Adam Ethan Crow’s LAIR will be released on Digital and on Video on Demand on November 9, 2021