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Review: The Lazarus Effect (2015)

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Directed by: David Gelb

Premise: A group of scientists discover a method for bringing the dead back to life. After successfully resurrecting a dog, the scientists use the technology to reanimate one of their own but with supernatural results.

What Works: The Lazarus Effect is a low budget horror picture and so it is a surprise to see actors of considerably high caliber cast in the lead roles including Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover, and Evan Peters. Given that this is a possession movie by way of Frankenstein and Flatliners, it is pleasantly surprising that the cast members give earnest performances and the early character-centric scenes between Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass convincingly establish their relationship. The Lazarus Effect is also noteworthy for the way in which it involves interesting ideas, at least at first. The story deals with the ethics of laboratory testing and the filmmakers use the supernatural to dramatize ideas about guilt, memory, and identity. As a horror picture, The Lazarus Effect is intended to frighten the audience and it does manage to get a jump out of the viewer once in a while. Its scares are of the PG-13 variety and are mostly predicated around red herrings or battering the audience with loud sound effects but for its intended audience of teenagers it mostly gets the job done.

What Doesn’t: After a promising start, The Lazarus Effect goes south in its second half. In the first half the filmmakers establish some interesting themes to do with spirituality and scientific ethics but in the second half a lot of that is ignored. Among the discarded subplots is the progression of a reanimated dog. The animal is brought back to life but it does not behave like a normal canine and the film hints that it may become violent. Instead of using that to the advantage of the story or calling it back as an added complication in the climax, the dog subplot is dispatched without any payoff. The movie also adds a secondary antagonist; the scientists have their experiments overtaken and seized by a pharmaceutical company and it is strongly implied that this corporation is fully aware of what this new invention is capable of. Whatever plans the corporate villains might have for this new technology is unclear because the filmmakers never return to this idea. The second half of the film begins with one of the lead scientists, played by Olivia Wilde, accidentally electrocuted in the lab and resurrected through the process they’ve just used on a dog. At that point the filmmakers’ imagination dries up and the film retreads a lot of scenarios from possession and mad scientist movies, namely Frankenstein, Pet Semetary, and especially Re-Animator. Channeling older stories is fine but the filmmakers do it with very little creativity. The Lazarus Effect grabs reference after reference from other movies but the filmmakers don’t assimilate them into the story in a way that makes any sense. After the fellow scientist has been resurrected, it becomes clear that something is wrong with her and Wilde’s character suddenly has supernatural abilities, including telepathy and telekinesis. Instead of exploring these newfound powers as in The Fly or dealing with the newly porous boundary between the physical and spiritual world as in many possession pictures, The Lazarus Effect instead takes the route of a monster movie. Despite setting up interesting characters and some compelling ideas, the second half of The Lazarus Effect dumps all of that in favor of the clichés of people trapped in a dark basement with a demonic creature who kills them in really unimaginative ways.

Bottom Line: The Lazarus Effect may entertain adolescent horror fans whose idea of cinematic terror is Paranormal Activity. But for everyone else, The Lazarus Effect lazily rips off a lot of other and better movies and throws them together in a horror mishmash that doesn’t make sense. 

Episode: #532 (March 8, 2015)