David L. Garcia
“The Lazarus Effect” was summed up best by a man I shared the elevator with after the preview screening. He was chuckling and said, shaking his head, “Man, I just had to get out of there.”
I don’t think he left out of terror. “The Lazarus Effect” is a mindless, predictable mess, one that wastes its cast and director on a script so brainless it manages to misquote The Hail Mary. It’s not so much an actual horror movie as it is a horror movie playing in the background of the Halloween episode of an ABCFamily original sitcom.
The story is about as creative as a scoop of vanilla ice cream: a team of scientists try to make a death-reversing serum, but notice some odd goings-on after bringing a dog back to life. Honestly, by the time the adorable rascal uses his telekinesis to blow up a refrigerator, you’ll be rooting for him instead of the humans.
After getting their research shanghaied by a chemical company exploiting university politics (I’m not even going to bother explaining), the team breaks into their lab to replicate their experiment. Things seem great until the team’s leader (Olivia Wilde) gets fatally electrocuted (Whoops!), and her husband (Mark Duplass) decides to pump her full of serum. Which, needless to say, does not work out for anyone. SPOILER ALERT: The scientists become trapped in the lab without cell service (because, that’s why), and end up getting picked off, one by one, by a demonic Olivia Wilde. Sorry to ruin it for you.
The script is what sealed this film’s fate. Clichés are rampant throughout (oohh, there’s a kid in a creepy hallway!), and plenty of ideas are introduced that might have flourished in more skilled hands. The only scary line of dialogue is “Hell is the worst moment of your life, on a loop, forever.” This idea is, of course, quickly brushed aside in favor of some fuzzy security footage and a bunch of jump scares. Even the ending, which could reasonably be called scary, leaves the viewer not with fear, but exasperation at the idea of a possible direct to DVD sequel.
Honestly, I’m upset with the actors more than anybody. They are all slumming it with a film way below their skill level. Olivia Wilde has the juiciest role as the scientist back-from-Hell and, to her credit, she gives the role more than it deserves, acting all possesed and demon-like and stuff. Mark Duplass somehow manages to bring a touch of subtlety to a role that should’ve been as bland as tofu on toast.
The biggest WTF’s come from the supporting actors. Donald Glover has apparently gone from comedic wunderkind and indie rap-god to the likeable guy who gets killed first. And, Evan Peters should definitely know better, especially after establishing himself on the consistently brilliant American Horror Story, where he never fails to shine.
The director is even more of an enigma; David Gelb was the man behind the brilliant and nuanced documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a critical darling about an obsessed Japanese sushi chef that was incredibly original and arresting. To be fair, “The Lazarus Effect” benefits from Gelb’s direction; there’s some style here that distracts from the paper thin plot and ridiculous dialogue. But why is Gelb doing this? Why is Wilde? Why is Duplass, and Glover, and Peters?
Why did we pay to see this? Now that’s a hard question, one I hope you don’t end up asking yourself.