The Lazarus Effect

Directed By: David Gelb

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

It's amazing how Hollywood can get horror so right on television and so wrong on the big screen fairly consistently.  Just look to the recent successes of terrific shows like American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, and Bates Motel.  Then, look to the recent failures of films like Annabelle, The Purge: Anarchy, and any Paranormal Activity film of your choosing.  It's a startling contrast that boggles the mind.  The horror movie genre could be so much better if Hollywood put its collective back into it.  On paper, The Lazarus Effect could have signaled something resembling an effort given the names attached to the film.  Alas, I'm back at square one when it comes to finding the next great scary movie.

Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are engaged to be married.  There's just one problem.  These university researchers are already married to their work.  Along with their peers Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters), they're creating a serum that will sustain a person's life temporarily.  Ideally, their subjects will remain in the land of the living a little longer when they begin to see those bright lights and pearly white gates.  Interestingly enough, those bright lights are the result of a hormone known as DMT.  Though the discovery of this compound explains death in plain terms for Frank, it undermines the spiritual nature of this important part of life according to Zoe.  Regardless of their feelings about DMT, the team’s “Lazarus” serum could give medical professionals and patients more time in a life-threatening situation.  They've invited university student Eva (Sarah Bolger) to document this on film.

The lab team finds its first success with a dog named Rocky whom the group raises from the dead.  There are a few unintended side effects, however.  The serum doesn't leave Rocky's system, and the dog's brain is firing off neural synapses associated with aggressive behaviors like fireworks.  When a pharmaceutical company buys the foundation funding the lab's grant and threatens to take all their work, the team goes into overdrive to protect their research.  They do so by filming one last experiment on another dead dog.  Things don't quite go as planned.  Zoe is electrocuted during the experiment and passes away.  Frank and the team play god and raise her from the dead with the serum.  They should have just let her go through those pearly white gates.

The Lazarus Effect starts out quite strong with an indie tinge.  It boasts a solid cast headlined by Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass.  It's helmed by director David Gelb, the same filmmaker who made the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  It even has an intriguing premise that differs from all the supernatural horror we've seen in recent years.  However, the payoff isn't worth it because of creative decisions made in the writing and production of The Lazarus Effect.  When Olivia Wilde springs into a murderous rampage, her kills on screen are executed sloppily and just don't translate into the bloody nightmare that moviegoers deserve.  In fact, they mimic the style we’ve seen in the very supernatural horror films from which The Lazarus Effect differs in a big way.

The poor creative decisions to which I alluded earlier can be summed up in a few brief words.  The Lazarus Effect opens decently but becomes the Lucy of horror movies somewhere in the middle.  The movie gets lost in grand ideas about what drives Zoe into her awkwardly depicted reign of terror upon her friends and loved ones.  Characters begin referring to how humans only use ten percent of their brains and the possibilities created by the serum lingering in Zoe’s brain.  Others begin discussing the possibility of some demonic evil as Zoe relives the hell of her past sins.  At no point do viewers actually receive an explanation of what's taking place.  We just know that raising the dead is not a good idea, and Zoe has powers for some reason.  Well, that answer is simply insufficient and totally unacceptable for any moviegoer like me.  There are no details or direction whatsoever from Kelb.

The Lazarus Effect is below the bar.  It's just below the bar.  It's yet another poor entry into the horror movie genre.  This latest dud gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few gin martinis with this one.