THE LAZARUS EFFECT
2015, PG-13, 83 mins.
2015, PG-13, 83 mins.
Olivia Wilde as Zoe / Mark Duplass as Frank / Donald Glover as Niko / Evan Peters as Clay / Sarah Bolger as Eva / Bruno Gunn as Fireman
Directed by David Gelb / Written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater
THE LAZARUS EFFECT is yet another one of those dime-a-dozen horror thrillers that suffers from a condition that I like to call "PWP Disorder," or a film that contains a premise without payoff.
The story here
taps into ageless themes that have dominated films and literature for
as far back as we can remember – the inherent perils of
scientists/doctors playing God and attempting to bring people back from
the dead – and, initially, THE LAZARUS EFFECT begins compellingly enough
in dealing with this material. Unfortunately,
the longer the film progresses the more it utterly squanders any
thoughtful and contemplative examination of its subject and instead
devolves into storytelling stupidity and a whole lot of lame and overused
horror genre clichés. That,
it utilizes many talented performers on uninspired and sometimes laughable
are the likes of Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde doing in a film like this?
They play engaged Berkeley medical researchers Frank and Zoe that
have developed – through ample trial and error and arduous work – a
serum code named, yup, “Lazarus” that they hope will be assist coma
patients. Joining them on
their scientific exploits are Clay (Evan Peters), Niko (Donald Glover), and
Eva (Sarah Bolger), the latter being hired on to document everything on
camera (this might be the first horror film that’s not a found footage
film despite having a documentarian in it).
They make a startling discovery early on when they are able to
actually reanimate a canine back from the dead.
The team sees this as a major research breakthrough, but just
before they can legitimately celebrate their newfound success…the dog
begins to predictably exhibit…odd behavior.
Like, really odd behavior.
For starters, the
pooch has no appetite and won’t even look at food.
Even stranger is the fact that his neural impulses/activity are
spiking to unhealthy levels, leaving him prone to violent outbursts.
Also, the dog’s cataracts disappear.
When the dean of the university discovers their findings and
experiments, he – like all obligatory movie deans – instantly shuts
down the project (that, and a major pharmaceutical corporation has bought
them out, confiscating everything associated with the research).
Of course, we wouldn’t have a movie if it ended here, but let’s
just say that the team does continue their research in secret, leading to,
un- huh, a desperate usage of the serum on one fallen scientist after a
freak accident. When she’s
reanimated back she too displays frighteningly eradicate behavior.
All forms of inevitable hell then ensue.
One thing that
THE LAZARUS EFFECT does competently is assembling its fine cast, especially
for how Duplass and Wilde seem to explore the psychological underpinnings
of their characters…perhaps more than the script actually allows.
Frank is more of an atheist researcher that believes in the cold,
hard facts of science, whereas Zoe leans more towards the philosophical
and moral implications of their scientific work (she seems a bit more
concerned with the whole idea of waking people up from what should be
their eternal slumbers). I
liked the character dynamics between Frank and Zoe, but THE LAZARUS EFFECT
feels so damned rushed to get us to its big “BOO” moments of intense
intrigue that all manners of meaningful discourse regarding its themes of good
and noble minded scientists becoming modern day Frankensteins gets
hopelessly lost along the way.
Yes, the script
is peppered here and there with some minor dialogue exchanges probing into
the scientific versus religious weight of the scientists’ work, but
that’s essentially it. Then
there’s the whole notion that THE LAZARUS EFFECT wants to be a mad
scientist movie, but contains scientists that are never really altogether
fanatical enough to fit into that category.
Again, the very game and able bodied cast gives it their all with
the material given, but you’re continually led to think that they are
rising well above the lackluster nature of it.
At a very scant 83 minutes – including end credits – the film
simply is too short for further exploration and definition of its
characters and their motives. This
has a disastrous consequence of making THE LAZARUS EFFECT feels like a
haphazardly constructed first rough cut that was hastily released to
All we are really
left with are the scares in this horror thriller, but here the film
mightily stumbles as well. Director
David Gelb – like far too many greenhorn horror directors – seems to
place too much emphasis on overused genre troupes to generate would-be
moments of terror: jump cuts, quick pans, darkness, silence, and fake out
scare tactics. There film is
pathetically lacking in genuine shock value that barely elicits any type of
gasps or shrieks from audience members, mostly because anyone with a
reasonable head on their shoulders that have sat through many monotonous
horror movies will be able to pinpoint down precisely when the scary
moments will come. Great
visceral horror films – like the recent IT
FOLLOWS – created a sense of unnerving dread by what may or may
not happen next. THE LAZARUS
EFFECT, by direct comparison, never feels truly inclined to foster any
level of intoxicating unease. It’s
all about using lame and recycled scare tactics that we’ve seen hundreds of
times before, and not much more.
The film careens towards a climax and a conclusion that seems like the screenplay wrote itself into a corner and had no concrete idea of how to satisfactorily end. Then there’s the awkward and mechanical nature of the subplot involving the drug company that’s conveniently layered in to provide the film with a reason for the research team’s further underground exploits with their studies. THE LAZARUS EFFECT had great potential to really explore the whole thorny notion of modern day scientists – using all available technology available at their disposal – messing with the natural laws of birth and death. Ultimately, the film is too brain dead to explore such ideas to their fullest extent and unavoidably becomes a relentlessly conventional horror thriller that does very little to segregate itself from the pack. Funny, but for a film about scientists resurrecting beings from the grave, its screenplay is suffocated and buried under decayed genre gimmicks.