'The Lazarus Effect' Review
Directed by David Gelb, The Lazarus Effect follows a group of scientists who have achieved something that humanity has sought for centuries. They have brought the dead back to life. But when one of the lead scientists is killed in a freak accident, the team attempts to use their ground-breaking Lazarus serum on a human for the first time. The serum works, but it may have be too effective and before long, the revived scientist starts to show some disturbing side-effects. It's an interesting, if not unoriginal premise, and with a cast which includes talent like Olivia Wilde (Zoe) Mark Duplass (Frank) and Evan Peters (Clay), I had high hopes for this rare foray into the Sci-Fi/Horror genre. But what the The Lazarus Effect possessed in talent and premise, it rapidly lost in a lack of suspense and terror.
The Lazarus Effect opens with the familiar shots of a happy, quirky laboratory team on the border of a scientific breakthrough. Joining the team is a Eva, a film student who has been assigned to the lab to create a documentary on the project's progress. Essentially, the project revolves around developing a serum that can reboot the brain long after a being has died. While it may have you believe otherwise, the movie never really attempts to present any form of actual science. Instead it opts to spew out some nonsensical jargon at speeds so fast the audience is never really meant to keep up. Its one saving grace is that it did at least try to right the wrongs of Lucy in attempting to correctly explain that whole "Humans only use 10% of their brain" theory.
After successfully bringing their first subject, Rocky the dog, back from the dead, the team is split between joy and fear at what they have achieved. Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay appear most at odds with what they have achieved, while the lead-scientist/Husband & Wife team of Zoe and Frank seem so overjoyed by their achievements that they fail to spot the warning signs of Rocky's bizarre post-death behaviour. Soon though, it's the stoner Clay who pays witness to just what this serum is capable of, as Rocky swiftly turns from loveable puppy dog eyes to telekinetic dog from hell.
It's in these early moments of blissful ignorance that the movie's talented cast is at its best, but alas, these moments are few and far between. As the team attempt to piece together the data from their resurrected canine, you're tricked into thinking this movie is going to head somewhere interesting. Then there's a strange change of pace when we discover that the project has been seized by a shadowy pharmaceuticals company who, through a clause in the project's grant contract, have gained the ability to take Frank and Zoe's research for themselves. This, it turns out, was a convoluted segway to getting the team back into the lab to attempt another experiment so they can save their research. As they hurriedly go about bringing another dog back to life, Zoe is accidentally juiced with a lethal amount of electricity. Understandably in a fluster at seeing his wife die, Frank ignores the pleas of his lab-mates and sets about trying to use the serum to revive her. As with Rocky, the serum works, but it's right about now that things start to turn awry.
The movie's best sequence comes when the team is adjusting to having Zoe back in their lives. Rocky's bipolar habits have the scientists on edge and even though she was only dead for an hour, they aren't convinced they have brought the same Zoe back. There are some thoroughly entertaining scenes in which Zoe begins tapping into her dark side and toying with her fellow lab mates, and Olivia Wilde really is brilliant at portraying her character's horror at her slow transformation. The early moments of Zoe's transition are by far the most unsettling; the idea that someone can look so human, but possess such evil, is something that taps into the most natural of fears.
As Zoe grapples with her transition, she reveals to Frank that she believes she was trapped in Hell and although she was only dead for an hour, she felt as if she had been there for years. Zoe confides that her vision of hell was the same as a recurring nightmare she had been having in which she relives the darkest moment from her past. It's at this point, just as you are expecting the fear factor to elevate, that the movie falls flat. Zoe's vision of hell felt cliched and at odds with the rest of the movie, but most importantly, I can't help but think that a huge opportunity to address a really interesting philosophical question was completely missed. Here was a chance to really play with the difference in opinion that Science and Religion have over what happens when someone dies. Instead, Hell was reduced to a played out vision from the victim's childhood years. Yawn.
The Lazarus Effect's climax fell equally flat. With Zoe on a possessed rampage through the lab, you're never really that scared, mainly because you have zero attachment to any of the characters who find themselves in danger. The famed horror trick of turning out all the lights and having the big bad appear next to its victim is used over and over, and that all adds to a sense that, by the time you get to the hour mark, this production is simply going through the motions.
The Lazarus Effect fails to instill even a base sense of terror in its audience and squanders a number of chances to riff on a tried and tested premise. Olivia Wilde and Sarah Bolger made the entire experience bearable, but the talents of the rest of the cast were ultimately wasted.
The Lazarus Effect hits theaters February 27th