It’s a long established trope within the world of horror for a wide eyed, eager scientist to be brought down by that pesky thing we call hubris. It’s a tried and true element of horror going back to the early days of the genre. Man dabbles in some sort of hokey pokey science common sense tells him he ought’a avoid and carnage ensues shortly thereafter. It’s been done before and will be done again. It’s up to the filmmakers and story tellers to find their version of that story, to find their unique spin on the concept. Some succeed, some fail, but you can never fault them for trying. That said, let’s dive into The Lazarus Effect.
The Lazarus Effect essentially boils down to a few plucky college scientists come up with a serum that can restore life. As is tradition, our team starts off with animal trials. They resurrect an already aggressive looking dog, with predictably terrible results. I don’t know why you wouldn’t start with something a tad safer like a ferret or a parakeet or something, but I’m no scientist. After this successful animal trial a scheming pharmaceutical corporation pulls a sneaky bureaucratic move that see’s our idealistic scientists losing all their research. Naturally they decide the only way to vindicate themselves is to repeat the experiment and film it to prove the work was their’s first, not that cackling villain of a corporation. By the way, that’s essentially the last we really see or hear from that pharmaceutical. Anyway, back the story. Our young heroes pull a dead dog out of the fridge and rig him up to be revived. Wouldn’t you know it things go sour and Olivia Wilde’s character drops dead. If only they had a magic serum that brought stuff back to life. Luckily for Ms. Wilde they do. She swaps places with the the frozen puppy dog on the table, then get’s the ol’ Frankenstein treatment.
From here forward the typical bunch of cliched horror shenanigans take over. Lots of jump scares, lots of ominous music and lots of carnage. Well, maybe not carnage. Sure, people die. It is a horror movie after all and it’d be strange to not have people dropping dead like it’s going out of style, and drop dead they do. Fast. But by the time the horrific chaos kicks in we’re at the tail end of the movie and you can’t help but feel the director was looking at the film he had left over and just shouted at people to hurry. As a matter of fact, the supremely disappointing ending felt like the beginning of the third act. Things just kinda stopped. Had they followed the thread they laid down at the end and cut out some of the more extraneous elements (I’m looking at you Big Pharma) they could have had a solid horror story on their hands. They had a movie that could have tackled the science versus religious debate within the confines of the horror genre, but it felt like the filmmakers just gave up.
This movie is another in a series of horror flicks I’ve seen recently that have a really interesting concept but something during the production kept theses movies from truly achieving any sort of greatness. In The Lazarus Effect we’re presented with two ideas about the nature of death. We have one character saying the phenomenon of the afterlife and the so called “white light” everyone see’s as they pass is the mind releasing a flood of the chemical compound DMT. I guess that acts as some sort of hallucinogen in the brain that lessens the impact of death, or eases the whole experience. After Olivia Wilde dies and is resurrected she tells of a nightmare she had to relive for years during the few minutes she was dead. The movie suggests that Hell is where a person goes to relive the worst moment of their life over and over again. These two ideas, one science based, one religious based, are presented to the audience and then never expanded upon. There’s killing to get to and we don’t have time to deal with those kind of big debates. So it’s left hanging. Is Olivia Wilde tripping on DMT so severely that it’s given her demonic super powers, or has she returned with a demonic presence latched onto her soul. The movie never really tells us. She can do some crazy stuff, but the “why” is missing. If bringing back someone from the dead gives them super demon powers we as the audience deserve to know for sure which one it is, especially if you present two opposing ideas that make perfect sense and are supported within the narrative of the film. Don’t let an idea dangle there. Grab it and run with it or don’t bother giving it to us at all.
On a technical side everything in the movie was fine. It looked good and didn’t have any wonky special effects. The performances of the main cast were typical of what you’d find in this kind of movie. The biggest problem with the cast was Mark Duplass. He’s a fine actor, but in this film his eyes were telling the audience he didn’t believe a single word that came out of his mouth. He’s supposed to be the smart guy in the room, but you don’t buy it for a second. Evan Peters, Donald Glover and Sarah Bolger all did perfectly fine jobs given the sort of film we’re dealing with, but none of the performances really drew you into the film.
This movie just doesn’t work. It had a lot of things it could have expanded on that it just didn’t, and spent time on elements it had no business worrying about. The opportunity to tell a good story took a back seat to a series of jump scares. If that’s your cup of tea give the movie a shot, but I can’t really recommend it.