Review: “The Lazarus Effect” Is Better Off Dead
Title: The Lazarus Effect
Director: David Gelb
Screenwriter: Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater
Principal Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, and Sarah Bolger
I’m not a huge fan of horror movies. I understand the concept of them, but I have an extremely overactive brain that keeps me awake imagining how I’m going to pay rent in two years. I don’t need to add some horror movie scenario to the mix to make it even harder for me to sleep. I also tend to rely on logic for a lot of things, and if I can explain something I can talk myself out of being afraid so I don’t get the rush of adrenaline that a lot of people do during horror movies. The one place where I tend to see scary movies is during the Sundance Film Festival because they are usually interesting and different, if nothing else. A horror movie that is released during February might as well raise every red flag known to man; a horror movie released any time aside from the fall will almost always let you down and I wasn’t expecting The Lazarus Effect to break the mold.
The Lazarus Effect is the horror re-telling of last summer’s Lucy that somehow manages to be even dumber without any tension or scares.
Our story follows Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and her research team consisting of her fiance Frank (Mark Dupress), Niko (Donald Glover), and Clay (Evan Peters). They are working on a serum that will bring people back from the dead without any repercussions to cognitive function. Eva (Sarah Bolger) is a film student that is documenting the entire event. When the team manages to bring back a dog, they think they’ve had a breakthrough. However, they have broken their contract and are going to lose everything unless they make one last dash to replicate the experiment. It’s during this re-enactment that Zoe is electrocuted and Frank makes the decision to use the serum to bring her back. The Zoe that they bring back isn’t quite the same person, though.
So if the word “Lazarus” wasn’t a big enough hint, we know that someone is going to die and come back to life. Since this is a horror movie, we also know that the person that is going to come back isn’t going to be right and start killing people for whatever reason. There are a lot of reasons that this plot doesn’t work out right and the real problem starts with the concept. As I said, this is Lucy as a horror movie so when Zoe comes back she has too much neural activity, using too much of her brain at once, and that somehow gives her powers. One would think with a concept like that the movie would go completely nuts in act three but The Lazarus Effect is going for a safe PG-13 and never uses its concept for anything interesting. The cast is very small and we don’t feel any connection to any of them. When the bodies start dropping (not going to count that as a spoiler because this is a horror movie, of course people die) the movie isn’t even original enough to come up with creative kills.
A horror movie must be scary for it to work and The Lazarus Effect has maybe ten minutes where there is anything resembling tension, and it has nothing to do with Zoe and her crazy powers. Those moments come from any moment that the dog, named Rocky, is around because there is something off with the dog as well. The creepiest moment in the entire movie is when Rocky stands over a sleeping Zoe and just stares at her. Once they abandon the dog for Zoe, the movie becomes much duller. I don’t consider jump scares to be worth much as far as terror goes. Any movie can have jump scares but it’s a movie that makes you sit on the edge of your seat and shake with tension that really makes a horror movie captivating, and there is just nothing interesting here. The movie then has the gall to end with a complete non-ending that is about as close as you can get to “to be continued” without actually having the words on the screen. It’s quite obvious they would like a franchise here and I can promise you they won’t get it.
There is a common theme in a lot of horror movies that involve science, and even science fiction, where a character is punished for trampling in “God’s domain”. It says that there are some things that we humans shouldn’t try to do and someone is always the religious one of the group (in this case, of course, it’s Zoe) who doesn’t want to shut the experiment down, but does seem to dwell on the implications of what they are doing much more than anyone else. The message really is that if you try to be God you’ll be punished for it. The most honest moment in the movie is when Frank is arguing on behalf of their experiment and says that “the best advances in science come from mistakes in the lab” which is true. The movie doesn’t do anything interesting with that, but I did like that someone said it.
The thing that is a real shame is that they have a very solid cast. Olivia Wilde has proven that she is a very solid actress and, at times, she is almost scary. However, she is a tall, thin woman with big eyes, and half the time she looks more like a victim than someone going around killing people. Donald Glover and Evan Peters are doing their best to back everyone up, but they don’t have much to do aside from be the rest of the team and provide two more bodies for Wilde’s Zoe to inevitably kill. They try to make Sarah Bolger the supporting actress, even almost elevate her to the main character, once Zoe goes off the deep end, but she has absolutely no motivation. She doesn’t know these people very well so there’s no reason she should risk her career for them and their experiment. It’s heavily hinted that she might be the one that sold them out and got the project canceled, but it never pans out. There are times when they are trying to make Mark Duplass almost a careless bad guy who only cares about his experiment but, again, it never amounts to much.
The Lazarus Effect fails completely as a horror movie by lacking any tension or real scares. The motivations of the character fall flat, and it seems like it doesn’t know whether it comes down on the side of science or religion. This will be a footnote in the careers of its cast and will be forgotten in a week when something else comes along. Don’t waste your time.