The Lazarus Effect is yet another horror movie about the dangers of re-animating the dead, and it has nothing new to say on the subject. That's not necessarily a huge problem (most movies are imitations of other movies, after all), but the story is told with such uninspired flatness and filled with such uninteresting characters that you can't help but wonder if anyone involved felt a real need to tell this tale. So listen up: Don't play God. It probably won't work out too well. There, I saved you 83 minutes.
The film's central characters are Frank (Mark Duplass, Creep) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy), a pair of romantically attached medical researchers who have been hard at work on the “Lazarus” serum. The serum was developed to help coma patients, but Frank and Zoe have begun to believe that they may very well be able to use it to bring people back from the dead. With the help of fellow team members Eva (Sarah Bolger, The Spiderwick Chronicles), Niko (Donald Glover, Community) and Clay (Evan Peters, American Horror Story), our intrepid researchers use the serum on a recently deceased dog. It works. Everyone pops champagne and celebrates their groundbreaking discovery.
Unfortunately, this is a horror movie, a genre that frowns on groundbreaking discoveries and scientific advancement. The dog begins exhibiting strange behavior, making some of the researchers wonder what unexpected side effects might come with resurrection. Before they can dig too deep, their project is brought to a halt: the company that initially funded their research has been purchased by another corporation (allowing Ray Wise to make a smirking cameo as a devilish corporate overlord), and they've been ordered to stop work on the serum. So, the team is faced with a decision: do they continue their experiments in secret? Of course they do.
As a direct result of this decision, Zoe is killed in a freak accident. Frank, stepping into his mad scientist role with disappointingly little passion, decides to resurrect her. When she comes back, she seems... troubled. She claims to have seen strange things, and her behavior becomes increasingly erratic. If you've seen the film's trailers, you'll know that her eyes eventually turn black and that she starts murdering people. What the trailers didn't tell you is that the slasher movie stuff doesn't appear until the final twenty minutes or so, and that all of it is staged with unimaginative blandness. It's almost if the filmmakers shot just enough mayhem to trick viewers into thinking they were in for a much more eventful and exciting movie.
Admittedly, I wasn't expecting the film's gradual implementation of supernatural elements, though I suppose I should have been given that a Bible character's name is in the title. I won't spoil what the film has in store for you in this department, but let's just say that the film's interpretation of hell is both boring and weirdly specific.
I'm all in favor of films that spend more time on character development and bonkers pseudoscience than on boring old jump scares, but the character development is nil and the pseudoscience is never even a little bit interesting. Consequently, it feels as if we're merely hanging out with a handful of human props for an hour while we wait for the action to start. It's practically a sin to waste actors as good as Duplass, Wilde and Glover in the sort of generic roles they're given here, but it must be said that the actors don't seem particularly interested in finding ways to enhance what little they've been given. Every single performance in the movie feels like it ought to be underlined with the words, “Eh, it pays the bills.”
The most surprising thing about The Lazarus Effect is that the bland, straight-to-video-style direction was provided by David Gelb, who gave us the sumptuous, visually absorbing documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi and who produces the wonderful Netflix series Chef's Table. How could he make a film this flat and ugly? It certainly feels much closer in spirit to the other works of producer Jason Blum, who is responsible for a handful of good horror movies (Insidious, Creep) and a plethora of bad ones. Like The Purge, Dark Skies, The Boy Next Door, Area 51 and plenty of other Blumhouse productions, The Lazarus Effect takes a fairly standard horror/thriller idea and turns in the flattest possible version of it. This is a movie that could use a dose of its own serum.
The Lazarus Effect
Rating: ★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 83 minutes
Release Year: 2015