Mark Reviews Movies

The Lazarus Effect


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Gelb

Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of horror violence, terror and some sexual references)

Running Time: 1:23

Release Date: 2/27/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 26, 2015

"If we're going to ask the big questions, we have to be prepared for the answers," says Zoe (Olivia Wilde), a scientist developing a process that could resurrect the dead. The questions are the usual ones. What happens when we die? Is there life after death? Are near-death experiences merely the result of a chemical reaction in the brain or evidence that there is some kind of afterlife? Obviously, it would be silly to expect answers to these questions from a movie, but it's not too much to expect that, if a movie is going to ask the big questions, it at least follow through in exploring them with some degree of curiosity. The Lazarus Effect instead gives us an answer in the form of a horror exercise.

It's not a very good one, either. In fact, it's downright poor when one considers how invested the first act of The Lazarus Effect is in asking the philosophical, religious, and ethical concerns of death and resurrection. We start to think Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater's screenplay is genuinely interested in presenting a thoughtful debate between science and faith, in investigating the hypothetical ramifications of coming back from the dead, and in making us ponder the mysteries of our shared destiny. Then it becomes a routine series of body-crushing, skull-cracking, and neck-snapping deaths.

Zoe and her fiancé Frank (Mark Duplass) are in charge of researching and testing a regenerative serum that Zoe accidentally discovered while working with tumor cells. Their research started in trying to restart brain activity in coma patients, but you know how these things go. One day, you're trying to find a way to bring people out of a coma, and the next, you're jamming a long needle into the brain of a dead pig to inject it with a miracle formula before sending surges of electricity through the carcass.

In a way, director David Gelb announces the movie's eventual intentions in the opening shot, which takes the view of a research video and watches as the team attempts to resurrect a dead pig. It's all about the scare, as a loud shriek emanates from the shadows. The follow-up to the obvious moment, though, is far more hauntingly effective, as we're forced to stare at the open and frightened eye of the swine.

The questions are already racing. What so terrified the pig: the experience of returning to life, the state—if any—from which it was "awakened," or something else? The mind almost immediately considers what it would be like for a human being to undergo this process.

The movie gets there, too, but first, the team—which also includes Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters), with Eva (Sarah Bolger) acting as the videographer for their trials—tests a more promising method on a dead dog. The dog comes back to life, but its brain activity has unnaturally intensified. Side effects include a general disinterest in life, increased aggression, creepily hovering over a person while she sleeps, and the ability to instantaneously disappear from the view of a character and reappear behind the character just in time for the camera to pan over his shoulder. It's the usual horror stuff.

Even through this, the characters talk about death and the ethical quandaries of the work they're doing. All of it goes out the window, though, after a pharmaceutical company confiscates their research, leading the team to try to recreate the successful experiment. Zoe is electrocuted, and a devastated Frank instantly decides that the experiment is ready for a human trial.

The movie has set us up to expect a good number of things from Zoe upon the event of her resurrection—that she will not fully comprehend it, that she will have fundamentally changed, and, yes, that she will turn violent. If we anticipated—and it's fair to say that the movie sets us up for this, as well—that the characters' conversations about what Zoe's return means in any consequential way, that expectation is quickly eliminated. Zoe relates her death to a feeling of a being trapped in a self-created Hell, formed out of a painful memory. She starts to display supernatural powers, including the ability to pull people into her memories and to send objects flying across the room.

That's about it for the rest of the movie. Zoe essentially becomes a demonic presence—a generic psychic Hell-spawn (until she injects herself with more of the serum and becomes a super psychic Hell-spawn). Characters die off one at a time after the usual scare tactics. Death means something in the early parts of The Lazarus Effect, but then it just becomes the means to a bunch of clichéd ends.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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