Playing God, Poorly: A Review of The Lazarus Effect

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - March 02, 2015
Playing God, Poorly: A Review of The Lazarus Effect

The Lazarus Effect is a stupid horror movie about people too stupid to be scientists doing stupid things while being interrupted by the weakest jump scares imaginable every three to four minutes. It’s a waste of time on the part of its overqualified cast and on the part of the viewer, but thankfully it looks like it cost approximately $75 to make so at least not a ton of cash was lost in this debacle. The latest cheapie production from super-producer Jason Blum (The Purge, Insidious, The Boy Next Door, and inexplicably, Whiplash) concerns a worn out premise that grafts Luc Besson’s Lucy onto A Nightmare on Elm Street by way of the worst possible remake of Flatliners.

Frank (Mark Duplass, who has to be funding another mumblecore project with his paycheque here) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) have been working away at a Southern California university with a crack team of slightly less moronic assistants (Donald Glover and Evan Peters, both too good for this) to create a serum that allows doctors to revive dead patients long enough to keep operating on them. When the university and a big pharma company find out that the project has been successful, they attempt to take away all the results. To protect their research, Frank and company use the few hours they have before losing access to the lab to recreate their successful animal tests. When Zoe dies in a mishap involving some high voltage, her lover Mark decides to use the serum on her. Their new experiment, however, has created a conduit to hell that the now evil Zoe – who can now use 100% of her brain, just like Lucy – can control.

Director David Gelb, predominantly a documentarian best known for the foodie flick Jiro Dreams of Sushi, never seems sure what kind of a horror movie he wants to make so he settles on making them all at once. His resulting efforts make fellow documentarian Joe Berlinger’s Blair Witch 2 look downright nuanced and balanced by comparison. Sub-plots involving the head of the nefarious corporation looking for control (a nice Ray Wise cameo, in the film’s best bit of casting), a documentary filmmaking student (Sarah Bolger) who becomes the de facto fifth member of the team, and a supposed crush that Glover has on Wilde’s character build to precisely nothing. They’re often brought up once or twice then never remarked about again or built to any sort of real pay off.

Gelb bounces wildly from pointless shots from security cameras (but curiously almost never from the documentary student’s POV), jump scares where characters pointlessly sneak up on each other only to apologize seconds later, and a repetitive dream sequence that shows how the deceased Zoe found her way to hell despite being a somewhat devout Catholic. None of it makes any sense because with the exception of Peters – who still has to vacillate wildly between being comedic relief and the smartest guy in the room – these characters never behave like actual human beings. They don’t even act like cartoons. They act like people who can barely dress themselves in the morning, not brilliant scientists doing groundbreaking research. Everything they do puts them in obvious danger, and needlessly so. Teenagers in Friday the 13th films aren’t this dumb.

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While one can’t fault Wilde for taking her role here – no one would ever cast her as the monster in a horror film, and she attacks the role with appropriate panache – there’s no telling what Duplass was thinking. He has to know this character is an idiot. This is a man who instead of saving a choking man’s life with the Heimlich frantically asks for forceps. He’s a smart enough writer and filmmaker in his own right to know this character couldn’t exist, so his approach the attack the film with the same po-faced, dour seriousness that the rest of the production has feels misguided.

I guess worst of all is that even for a generic horror flick that should be buried deep within the Netflix dungeon, there aren’t any good kills or exciting set pieces. The whole movie takes place almost entirely on a single, nearly empty set (which is probably Blum’s cost-effectiveness kicking in) the characters can’t escape from, limiting potential high spots to someone being crushed inside a cabinet, the aforementioned and laughable choking sequence, and a benign neck snapping. In short, there’s nothing in The Lazarus Effect to appeal to serious horror fans, ultimately meaning there’s no worth in any of this to anyone.

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