By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
From Frankenstein to Re-Animator and Flatliners (among others), movie writers and filmmakers have enjoyed telling stories of ambitious scientists attempting to bring the dead back to life. However, perhaps too many of these filmmakers have tread along the same familiar paths, telling similar stories with similar or identical tropes and cliches. Therein lies the big problem with The Lazarus Effect. This film tells a story that is all too familiar and quite predictable. The audience already knows what is going to happen, but may not be quite too sure how everything will conclude. To make matters worse, the trailers and promos for the movie reveal way too much, including the deaths of key characters. I actually did not watch the trailers, but received this information from a friend and colleague just prior to viewing the film. On top of all these issues, most of the attempts at scares and their setups are way too obvious. The film may have a great cast and moderately interesting characters, but their journey into darkness simply left me flat.
Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde star as Frank and Zoe, two university scientists and paramours working on a secret project that attempts to bring the dead back to life. Working with other scientists Clay (Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover) and videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger), the group achieves a breakthrough when they successfully revive a deceased dog. Though seemingly healthy, the canine displays some unnerving personality differences. When a tragic accident kills Zoe, the team desperately revives her, but then she begins showing some disturbing new traits of her own.
Written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater and directed by David Gelb, The Lazarus Effect definitely disappoints. I left the theater both bewildered and annoyed because of the shameless “borrowing” of identical elements from so many other previous films. I also was annoyed that the director and editor offer such transparent work when it comes to setting up suspenseful, tense and supposedly scary scenes. Even the attempts at blending science and supernatural feel lifted from so many other past films, including the more recent release Lucy. To be fair, the movie does have some amiable characters and a couple of genuinely suspenseful and scary moments.
The cast really is the best aspect of the film. Though they have run-of-the mill material with which to work, they do the best that they can and prove why they were worthy of being cast here. Olivia Wilde has the big challenge of portraying both the desirable scientist/girlfriend and the frightening thing she becomes after she is revived. I, personally, did not find her all that frightening, but that was mainly due to silly looking makeup and unimpressive visual effects. Wilde does bring both cold and calculating as well as a fiery intensity to this role. Not much development is given to Duplass’ Frank, other than the drive to succeed and the desperation to save his love. Donald Glover brings enough charisma to his character, but the writers and director just don’t do anything with him. Evan Peters probably portrays the most entertaining character, though another all-too-familiar one.
That really describes this movie perfectly–all-too-familiar. I like a good “bring the dead back to life” horror story, but one that is fresh, exciting, and full of surprises. This movie has none of these qualities. It is watchable as a one-time viewing, but once that is over and done with, I think most people probably will see no reason to revisit this film. I do not recommend paying to see this movie in theaters whatsoever. This may be one to watch as a rental, Netflix, or on pay TV. The Lazarus Effect is pretty weak and might just manage to take the life out of its audience through boredom.