A film review by Craig J. Koban July 16, 2015


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 story developments. 

Seriously, what 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 theatres. 

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. 

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