A group of medical students discover a way to bring dead patients back to life. After a successful, yet unsanctioned, trial on a newly deceased animal, the team is ready to unveil their breakthrough to the world. When the dean of their university learns of their underground experiments, their project is unexpectedly shut down and their materials confiscated. Frank, Zoe and their team take matters into their own hands, launching a rogue attempt to recreate their experiment, during which things go terribly wrong and one of their own, Zoe, is accidentally electrocuted. Fueled by terror and grief, Frank pushes them to do the unthinkable: attempt to resurrect their first human test subject. Initially, the procedure appears a success, but the team soon realizes something is wrong with Zoe….
Despite never having heard of The Lazarus Effect before a few scant weeks ago, I was a bit anxious to sit and watch it. It’s not too many horror films that sneak under my radar, but this one seemingly came out of nowhere, and it looked intriguing to me. And despite its similarities to a scad of better films, I was genuinely interested in what was going on – at least for the first half of the film. But then it fell prey to genre conventions & tropes that only served to help file this one away under the heading “Could’ve been a contender“.
A group of scientists have been working on a way to resurrect the recently deceased (under the guise of health care reform) for the past 3 years. Led by Frank (Mark DuPlass) & his fiancee, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), and ably assisted by Clay (Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover AKA rapper Childish Gambino), the quartet have suddenly come upon a solution and resurrect a dog named Rocky. The proceedings are being videotaped by a newly hired photographer, Eva (Sarah Bolger), and she just happens to get hired right before their breakthrough – getting their success on video. But poor Rocky just isn’t quite the same as he was before. He has little to no appetite, seems lethargic and in a interesting twist, his brain synapses are wildly active – far more active than they should be. To simplify it – we’ve all heard of how humans (& as the film supposes, animals) use only 10% of their brain, right? Well, after the dog gets injected with the newly christened “Lazarus serum“, its entire brain is active – not just the 10% that it can use at one time. Additionally, the serum hasn’t left his body after a few hours as it was expected to. This creates a real conundrum for our team of scientists.
Soon after their discovery, they are told that all of their work is no longer theirs – it belongs to the giant pharmaceutical company that had just bought the company that was funding them for the last few years. Much to their shock, the representative from the company (a short cameo from genre stalwart Ray Wise), summarily thanks/dismisses them from the premises – taking all of their work. They’re all left in a state of shock, but Frank comes up with an idea to recreate the experiment Zoe handily has a large bag of the serum that the company missed), and take all the credit he and his team deserve for all of their hard work. But something goes horribly wrong during the second attempt, and Zoe gets electrocuted and dies. After furiously trying to bring her back using CPR, Frank decides (over his team’s objections), to use her as the subject of the second experiment. And it works! But at what cost to Zoe’s soul?
If you’ve seen the trailer for this film, then you already know that Zoe returns with an array of supernatural/paranormal powers that the script (by Luke Dawson & Jeremy Slater) doesn’t bother to fully explain. The film just takes for granted the idea that the audience will accept Zoe returning as a girl with a sudden ax to grind, much like the returned from the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but obviously poor Frank never saw that film because if he did then he’d remember the tagline from it – Sometimes dead IS better.
From the point of Zoe’s reanimation to its end, The Lazarus Effect settles onto a well trod path that you’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of times before. Everyone is trapped in the research lab with her and she methodically wipes them all out one by one (In one case, with a gag lifted entirely from 1989’s Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2). What’s sad about this is the nagging suspicion I have that this film has been severely truncated in one way, shape or form. It was completed over 2 years ago, and apparently sat on a shelf somewhere until last weekend. It has a few ideas/characters that are briefly introduced, and then completely forgotten about. The performances are all efficient although Evan Peters and Donald Glover both look like they’re about 15 years old here, and it’s way too hard too take them seriously as researchers/scientists looking that young. DuPlass is surprisingly low key as Frank, but efficient all the same. There is a subplot about his devotion to the project overwhelming his devotion to Zoe, but it’s only mentioned in passing, as is Niko’s apparent affair with Zoe before she met Frank. These are plot threads that might’ve helped flesh out some of the rationale that the characters have for pursuing their goal, but these ideas (& a few more) are simply left to wither away on a vine – without ever being mentioned again. Additionally, you just don’t put Ray Wise in a film, and only use him in one scene! He’s way too good an actor to be wasted away in such a thankless role. I suspect that a lot of footage featuring his character was left on the cutting room floor. And with a running time of only 83 minutes, I believe this is the case.
Olivia Wilde is indeed a gorgeous woman, but her beauty is a unique one. Her extremely chiseled/angular facial features (dig that chin!), make her beautiful and odd looking at the same time. Add a pair of gorgeous (yet ethereal) eyes, and you’ve got yourself a classic, yet unorthodox beauty. Her looks suit the role of Zoe perfectly though, and she excels in giving the character an otherworldly presence, even before she goes through her transformation! Sadly, her role seems to be truncated as well, and the subplot concerning her dream of a little girl in a burning building doesn’t really add up to much in the long run. There’s definitely something missing here.
Director David Gelb is best known as a documentarian, and his best known film is called Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011). He serves the material here as best as can be expected. There are a few decent directorial flourishes to be found, along with some nicely understated Argento-esque lighting. But it all adds up to little since there aren’t any scares to be found in The Lazarus Effect at all. There is the hint of a better idea germinating in the ending of the film, but that’s way too little, too late to save this from being nothing more than another log to be burned in the ever growing PG-13 pyre of films that are aimed at teenagers who just wouldn’t know a good horror film if it slashed their throats in front of their families.
The Lazarus Effect – 1.5 out of 5 shrouds.
· Creating Fear: The Making of The Lazarus Effect
· Playing God: The Moral Dilemma (Blu-ray only)
· Deleted/Extended Scenes (Blu-ray only)
· Includes Digital HD (Blu-ray only)
The Lazarus Effect (2015) is now available on bluray per 20th Century Fox