Two decades after delivering his hard-hitting debut with the werewolf war movie “Dog Soldiers,” Neil Marshall returns to pulse-pounding Military-Versus-Monsters action with an energetic new film, “The Lair.” Written by Marshall and Charlotte Kirk (The Reckoning), the film follows Sgt. Tom Hook (Jamie Bamber) as he leads a military unit to find Lt. Kate Sinclair (Charlotte Kirk) after the Royal Air Force fighter pilot was shot down in Afghanistan. Pursued by insurgents, Sinclair has sought shelter in an abandoned bunker where she unwittingly releases the Ravagers – a half-human-half-alien biological weapon. Hook and his team, accompanied by a handful of British SAS troops, must save Sinclair from insurgents and the Ravagers before they overrun the area and threaten the entire world. The second collaborative project from Marshall and Kirk, the film is a gory, over-the-top thrill ride that will leave fans begging for more.
RLJE Films will release ‘The Lair’ to U.S. theaters as well as VOD and digital on October 28th. Additionally, the film is already slated to hit the horror-centric streaming service Shudder early next year. Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Neil Marshall and Charlotte Kirk to discuss their creative bond, the art of storytelling, and bringing ‘The Lair’ to the masses!
You both have unique backgrounds. What drew you to the art of storytelling?
Neil Marshall: I fell in love with movies at a very early age. I definitely got a lot of it from my Dad, who is a huge movie fan. He introduced me to things like the Universal Horror movies when I was about five years old. That’s when I fell in love with monsters. I fell in love with cinema a few years later when I first saw Star Wars on the big screen. It was a revelation! Not that long after, when I was eleven, I saw ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark.’ I saw that in combination with seeing “The Making of Raiders of The Lost Ark” on television. It was at that point that I finally started to piece together the connection between the two things. It was, “Okay, this creates that.” I soon became obsessed with the idea of making movies. From then on, my trajectory has been absolutely linear from there. I didn’t deviate from that at all. I wanted to make movies from the age of eleven and started doing it straight away. It started off with Super 8 cameras, later it was video, then film school, and finally making films. It’s been quite a journey, just the notion of storytelling through film. My family is all painters. My sister is a painter, as well as my father. They tell their visual stories in different kinds of ways. I’m the first filmmaker in the family.
Charlotte Kirk: Do you know what? I was thinking about this earlier. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to act. Ever since I can remember! As a kid, I would drive my Mom mad. We would be out shopping or on the train, and I would create a scene. Of course, I would embarrass the hell out of her as well! [laughs] I would become a character on the train, and she would be like, “Stop it now, Charlotte. Stop it!” It was very embarrassing. As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved it. It wasn’t just me being a crazy, rebellious kid. It was continuous! [laughs] It was something I absolutely loved, which led me to drama school here in the U.K. I’ve obviously done other jobs along the way, but this has been my only focus. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s only recently, within the last two years, that I’ve become not only an actress but a filmmaker with producing, co-writing, and stuff like that. I’ve been very lucky with that. In terms of acting, the craft has been one of the greatest passions of my life.
There is no doubt you have chemistry. In fact, you are becoming quite a force in the world of filmmaking. When did you first realize you had a creative bond, and did you have any reservations about collaborating? I imagine that has its challenges.
Neil Marshall: We definitely kind of live it, I suppose. It was very early on when we first started hanging out, that we started chatting about movies we loved and things like that. Almost immediately, we started coming up with ideas for stories.
Charlotte Kirk: I think it was just creatively, though. It wasn’t like, “We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to do that!” If we did, it would’ve been a lot of pressure. It was very organic. We did ‘The Reckoning’ first. Then we did ‘The Lair.’ Then we wrote three movies back to back. We’ve literally just finished them all now. We just wrapped one a few months ago. ‘The Lair’ was the second one. It was all so organic, and we would bounce ideas off of each other.
Neil Marshall: I have co-written before with other people, so I was aware of what that would entail. It wasn’t as if handing over the reigns to share writing duties with someone else was a big deal. In terms of working together on set, I think people observe when we are working together that we are very professional. We don’t bring our personal baggage to set. We’re there to do a job, and everybody appreciates that and treats us accordingly.
Charlotte Kirk: Obviously, when we get home, we are still talking about it then, aren’t we? [laughs] It’s hard to switch off.
Neil Marshall: That’s the thing. It doesn’t switch off. It’s nonstop. There’s no reprieve at any point.
Charlotte Kirk: We’re like, “After this movie, we’re going to take a vacation and switch off.” But then we are like, “Oh! What about this one?”
Neil Marshall: [laughs] Yeah, sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t!
‘The Lair’ is your latest film, and it’s a fun ride. Tell us a little about how the concept came about.
Neil Marshall: The origins of ‘The Lair’ came about from us being in Los Angeles during the second lockdown. We were there during the first lockdown as well. At some point, a friend of ours approached and said, “I have a friend who has a house in the desert near Joshua Tree. If we could put together a little crew and cast, maybe we could go out there and make a Covid-friendly movie somehow. The film never happened, but the idea stuck and slowly morphed into something else. We started writing this thing, and, as with all my attempts to do something fairly low-budget, it grew to be wildly ambitious. Suddenly, it became about Afghanistan, Russian bunkers, soldiers, and aliens! [laughs] We still tried to maintain the idea of a few locations and characters while shooting something in the desert. Any ideas to shoot it in Morocco went out the window at some point. We ended up shooting it in Budapest, which is not the most obvious spot to duplicate Afghanistan, but it worked a treat at the end of the day. As you can see in the final film, you wouldn’t know. That is thanks to some beautiful matte shots from the visual effect guys! That’s how it came about. Of the three scripts that we’ve written together so far, this was the second one we wrote and the second one we’ve made. It was quite a quick turnaround. We wrote it, and within a year, we’d made it, which is very fast.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in bringing the film to life?
Charlotte Kirk: From an acting standpoint, it would be the physical side of things. I had never fired a gun before this, and then I found myself firing AK-47 and lots of other guns. I loved it! It was slightly challenging coming to grips with that, and there is quite a lot of action in it as well. The physical side was a challenge but something I really enjoyed. After a few days on set, I got into it and absolutely loved it!
Neil Marshall: And it was very hot!
Charlotte Kirk: Oh, my God, was it hot! [laughs]
Neil Marshall: Extremely hot! Trying to recreate Afghanistan and Russian bunkers in Budapest was certainly challenging. There is a sequence involving an elevator shaft. We knew we couldn’t film it in a real elevator shaft, so we had to figure out how to shoot something like that. There are always those types of creative challenges. Also, finding U.S. Army vehicles in the middle of Budapest isn’t the easiest thing to do! [laughs] We managed to find a Humvee from Romania, which belonged to a private collector, and drove it to the locations. You write things like these into scripts so easily without thinking about how you’re actually going to pull them off. It’s only when you get into production that you start to think, “Oh, what was I thinking when I wrote that.” We only have ourselves to blame at the end of the day! [laughs]
You have assembled a great cast for the film. What went into the process, and what did they bring to the material that might have surprised you?
Neil Marshall: In the case of Jamie Bamber, he’s somebody I’ve wanted to work with for quite some time. I’ve always been a fan, and it’s great that our schedules finally worked out on this one so we could work together. The rest of the cast was a case of auditioning people or getting tapes from people. In some cases, I had seen their work of theirs before. In others, it was friends of friends. Certain people had worked with our producer before, and he recommended them. Others, like Kibong Tanji, had never done anything before and put herself on tape. She’d done some stage work before, but she had never been on a set. It’s kinda great to get these rookies fresh off the boat! They are straight out of drama school or not, and they want to act. You thrust them onto a movie set in Budapest where they are carrying machine guns, and they’re giving it 200%! It’s lovely to see them getting such a kick out of it.
Charlotte Kirk: I would say that the cast was a huge component. In fact, ‘The Lair’ is one of the most fun films I’ve been a part of making. Part of that was that the actors were so much fun! It’s a real ensemble piece.
Neil Marshall: Yeah, there was a great spirit! Esprit de corps on set!
Charlotte Kirk: Yeah, I think that translates on screen! Everyone says, “Wow, it’s such a fun movie.” It was fun making it!
Have you noticed an evolution in your creative process as you continue to work together?
Neil Marshall: We have two films out there at the moment, and we just shot the third one, as Charlotte mentioned. With each film, we evolve. Each project brings a whole new set of challenges, and no two films are the same. It’s difficult to say that we’ve evolved in an obvious way. We’ve just become more proficient.
Charlotte Kirk: We are changing as well. We are always challenging ourselves. ‘The Reckoning was a drama-thriller. ‘The Lair’ is a full-on action horror film and the one we just finished is a thriller-gangster movie. So, we are always evolving, and you never get too comfortable and stick to just one thing.
Neil Marshall: It’s early days! We’ve got plenty more ideas where they came from! To what Charlotte said, it’s so important to keep challenging yourself and to be stubbornly determined to get these things done. It’s an act of sheer will to get any film made. It’s difficult to get so many people to agree on a similar vision. When you do, it’s a miracle! You’ve gotta be stubborn about the whole thing!
Charlotte Kirk: Definitely!
‘Dog Soldiers’ recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. I feel like there has been a real swell in the popularity of this film over the past few years. What is it about the film that continues to resonate?
Neil Marshall: I think ‘Dog Soldiers’ is much like ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ [laughs] It just keeps on going! The original fans are still there, but it keeps on gaining new fans along the way. I was just at a screening in Norway last week at a festival there. It was a packed house, and I asked the audience beforehand how many of them had seen the film before. More than half the people in the audience had not seen it before, and they loved it. I think part of it is that it doesn’t date. It was made 20 years ago, but we didn’t put any contemporary music on it at the time. There is nothing particular in it that says it is of a certain time. It plays just as well now as it did then to audiences that don’t know the difference. The bottom line is the characters. People love the characters and spending time with them. I think that is timeless and the reason it sticks with people.
Charlotte Kirk: Quite a few people have said ‘The Lair’ is like the distant cousin to ‘Dog Soldiers.’
Neil Marshall: Yes, a distant second cousin. It’s in the same family, but it’s a very, very different film.
Thank you so much for your time today. I greatly appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears you put into these projects! Keep up the great work, and I look forward to what comes next!
Neil Marshall: Thank you so much, Jason!
Charlotte Kirk: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you!
THE LAIR, which premiered in the UK at FrightFest, will be released by RLJE Films In Theaters, On Demand and Digital October 28th. Shudder is slated to release the film in early 2023.
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