Since The Conjuring films have made superheroes out of the Warrens as paranormal investigators who made a career out of showing up at the home of some hapless family and not just doing away with the guilty ghosts but also earnestly informing the audience family that ghosts, the afterlife, God, and the devil are all indeed real, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before a filmmaker tried to do a variation of that in which a skeptic who disproves supernatural occurrences stumbles into something they can’t disprove and mayhem ensues. Adam Ethan Crow’s Lair makes a grand attempt at being that film, and despite falling short still manages to make a film that isn’t entirely without its charm.

Lair is the story of Dr. Steven Caramore, played to the nines (scratch that…at least the nines) by Corey Johnson. Caramore is a boorish, crass, and some would say unimagitive man who has made a name for himself debunking various paranormal phenomenon. Think Dog The Bounty Hunter meets James Randhi. In the opening of the film, with his friend Ben Dollarhyde (portrayed in a strangely minimum role by Oded Fehr of The Mummy fame) murders his wife and son, and when Caramore visits him in jail, Dollarhyde claims that something Caramore has done allowed him, Dollarhyde, to be possessed by a demon that murdered his family. In an attempt to try and understand what’s happening, Caramore outfits an old apartment with various “cursed” items, sets up surveillance cameras, and rents it out to an unsuspecting family to see if he can recreate what Dollarhyde is claiming to have happened, and soon…well, you get the picture. It’s not a bad set up honestly.

The biggest problem with this film is that it seems somewhat uneven. It’s not a bad film, necessarily, but it suffers from what feels like an indecisiveness when it comes to tone. Much of that comes from Corey Johnson’s performance. Oftentimes, the film is rather grim and serious, full of foreboding and ominous imagery. However, there are moments when Johnson seems to believe this is something akin to a comedy. If he’s not chewing the scenery for all its worth with an intensity that veers into the absurd, he’s playing the character like a buffoon. He delivers lines about how the Bible is “a fucking comic book” with such grave sincerity it’s almost laughable, especially when that line is spoken to a character currently in jail for murdering his wife and child. Other times, Johnson plays Caramore as a horny outsider, a techno-wunderkind weirdo, and even something akin to a hardboiled short-tempered detective. It’s really, really distracting at times, and since much of the film rests upon his shoulders it unfortunately drags the film down due this wishy-washy performance that either way is played with almost grating intensity. Similarly in the scenery chewing camp, Alexandra Gilbreath’s character appears to believe they’re a villain in a James Bond film, especially given the films ending. The ice queen archetype of the character is ridiculous but thankfully kept to a minimum.

The horror of the film is somewhat blasé as well, erring on the side of slow burn for much of the film, which is usually an approach I appreciate but here it quickly drags. Unfortunately, the last act of the film seems to try and overcompensate for this early tentative approach and is packed with CGI ghosts and disemboweling and all sorts of balls to the wall violence. Coming on the tail of a movie who is mostly drawing horror from a sense of paranoia and genuinely eerie atmosphere this feels like a bit much, especially during one scene when a character is disemboweled in midair off camera and the camera lingers on their face when they hit the ground before they are, unsurprisingly, dragged away by an unseen force. It feels almost as if the film became impatient with itself at some point and just decides to go all in.I feel like I might be coming off as too hard on this film, so I want to just touch upon some of the things I like about. It opens with a perfect introduction to a very brutal flavor of horror, and while I feel it veers off the track eventually it starts in such a way that it pulls you in. Fehr’s brief time on screen as a man haunted by the fact he murdered his family is wholly believable; Fehr plays Dollarhyde like a man hoping he’s going to wake up at any moment and it’s absolutely effective. And something quietly important about this film I greatly appreciated was its depiction of a same sex couple with children. Not only that, but it was one of the rare films in which the characters sexuality is not a focal point of the film and instead is just a background detail. Also, this movie looks gorgeous. The apartment it’s set in feels like something out of a Polanski film, and the camerawork is executed to make us feel voyeuristic. Not the way one feels in a slasher or a giallo, but moreso that we’re one more observer to experiment that is quickly going awry.

Lair wasn’t entirely for me, but that’s fine because it’s still a fun film to check out. I can easily see this being the kind of horror film a lot of people will enjoy, and I don’t mean that in a snooty elitist way. I get hung up on intense overacting, and there’s a lot of that in this film. So, if you want something you can throw on and have fun with, this is the perfect movie for that.

Lair is available on VOD now.