Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Lazarus Effect is like that crazy uncle at your family gatherings that comes nicely dressed one time, making you think he’s going to act differently. Instead, he just looks good while spewing off a bunch of nonsense that leaves everyone confused and disoriented, hoping that maybe next time things won’t be such a mess. Most mainstream horror films as of late fall into that category, and The Lazarus Effect is no exception. It’s a nonsensical affair that exudes pretension and self-righteousness when it’s really just a painfully familiar and vapid horror story. The story focuses on Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), two scientists working on an experiment that began as a means of reviving coma patients from their mental state. Slowly but surely, it evolved into experimenting on recently deceased animals in hopes of bringing them back to life. They are joined by Clay (Evan Peters), an e-cigarette smoking slacker that’s also a complete genius, and Niko (Donald Glover), the shy scientist that not-so-secretly has a crush on Zoe.
They hire a documentarian, Eva (Sarah Bolger), to film their lab tests, and she basically acts as eye-candy for the two single guys while miraculously not having any of her own characteristics. It’s impressive. Outside of Zoe, who is developed as a religious believer with a troubled and traumatic childhood, each character is treated like their respective horror movie clichés. Except they also don’t really follow them at all, only when they need to die (side note: why does the black guy always die first in horror films?). Nonetheless, an experiment gone wrong one night leads to Zoe’s death, with the entire group debating about the ethics of reviving her using their technology. I should probably preface this rapid plot development by the fact that they bring a dog to life who acts aggressively around everyone except Zoe (bear with me), an enigmatic company steals their technology when they pretty much agree that no one would spend the amount of money provided on them (a story that goes nowhere, but it gets better), and some wonderful coincidences that allow for them to break back in to their own lab to do these tests when they literally had everything taken away of them. Who needs plausibility, right?
No surprises here, as Zoe gets revived and everything goes crazy. The ultimate problem with The Lazarus Effect is not simply its clichéd storyline or its emotionless characters, but its complete and utter disregard for being exciting. There’s nothing thrilling about its cinematography, score, sound effects, scares, or visual flair. It’s a repetitive film. There are numerous scenes that show us, at a variety of different angles (!), a fiery hallway that dominated Zoe’s childhood memories, but it never delivers a payoff until an out-of-left-field type plot twist. As Zoe grows increasingly powerful, the film grows even less interesting. She’s unstoppable, like a version of last year’s Lucy if the character wanted to murder scientists. The story hints at the malevolence behind many pharmaceuticals and attempts to tackle religion, but it ain’t no Exorcist. The cast should make for a compelling story, especially with Donald Glover as a comedic sidekick and the capable Duplass in the lead. But even Wilde cannot save the film in a role where she’s basically asked to be crazy. The one solid thing about The Lazarus Effect is that it runs a scant 83 minutes, making the experience mostly painless and gone in a hurry, like a tooth getting yanked out.
Grade: ★½ (out of 5)