When writing movie reviews there are sometimes those films where the words just come pouring out, whether they be good or bad usually has no bearing on the matter. Then there are films that can be difficult to articulate and are the cause of the dreaded writers block. But then there are films like The Lazarus Effect, a solid enough entry into the horror film genre (structurally speaking) with a solid cast that offers up some decent cheap thrills alongside some interesting ideas backing it all up. Where it becomes increasingly difficult to critique comes from the fact that it instills absolutely zero reason to care about it one way or the other after it is all over.
Following in the footsteps of such hallowed horror classics as Flatliners and Hollowman, The Lazarus Effect tells the story of a small group of young ragtag scientists working in an underground lab funded by grants who are meddling with forces they do not fully understand. When Doctor Zoe (Olivia Wilde) accidentally discovers a special serum (known as the Lazarus serum), her more than willing fiancé Doctor Frank (Mark Duplass) decides to put off their wedding and focus on this possible miracle drug. What does the drug do exactly? It is supposed to thwart brain decay for those few precious minutes after death to make a late resuscitation more viable, but what they soon discover is it also has the ability to bring the dead back to life! (Queue mad scientist crazy eyes and background lightning strikes)
This is a very easy movie to pick apart if one felt so inclined. The science is non-existent (they don’t even try to explain how the serum works), the characters are beyond one note (Donald Glover’s only noteworthy character trait other than being the black guy of the group is that he has a thing for Zoe) and the final act is so littered with inconsistencies and unanswered questions (such as why Zoe becomes immediately homicidal towards her friends) that instead of enjoying the carnage we are left wondering what any of this means and why exactly should we care?
The short answer? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Despite asking some brave and admittedly intriguing questions in regards to death, the afterlife and the repercussions for tampering with nature early on the film does absolutely nothing to follow up on any of it. It first appears as though the second half of the film is being set up to answer those questions but instead it delves into this weird middle ground that seems to be telling us that no matter what we do in life to repent for our sins we will forever be damned to hell and if we were to ever figure that out and be brought back from the dead we would immediately kill our friends and loved ones using the super demonic powers.
In hindsight it is still unclear what or who Zoe was/is after being resurrected. Sometimes she seems like she has a split personality and other times she seems to be faking it. When things take a turn for the more supernatural it becomes even more of a toss up of what is happening since it appears as though Zoe is possessed or at the very least brought something back with her that has psychic powers, but never once do we get a definitive answer to any of it. The only thing one can assume is that she had a psychotic break after learning she was damned to hell and in a fit of rage decided to use these powers bestowed upon her by the Lazarus drug to wreak all kinds of havoc just because she can.
Then there is the whole stupid scientist horror movie stereotype which just about every character is inflicted with in some form or another. Try as they might, none of the actors are able to cover up the fact that many of the decisions their characters make are a direct result of the stupid gene. You may be able to write off some of their acts as rash or ill advised, but when you have two, not one but two, scientists who decide to take home a strange dog that they just RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD and allow it to roam around the house unchecked, there is just no excuse for that level of stupidity. People this stupid should never be given this much responsibility or power ever.
Then when Zoe does eventually die (which was surprisingly sudden and effective) it results in a decision that seems reckless at the very least and completely moronic at the most. When these scientists start to die one by one it is difficult conjuring up any sort of sympathy for them because it feels like they were tempting fate the entire time and are now reaping what they sow. Suddenly you no longer care if they live or die, you just hope that when they go it makes the wait worth it and when you start down that line of thinking there is no coming back.
This may all sound overly negative but if you come into the film knowing what you are getting yourself into many of those issues become more emblematic of the genre than deal breaking problems. Some of the saving graces are a strong supporting cast with the likes of Evan Peters, Donald Glover and Sarah Bolger who despite being in throwaway roles still manage to make an impression. A very short runtime does double duty by assuring the audience it will get down to business as soon as possible while also making sure it moves by fast enough that you have very little time to contemplate and criticize its more dopey moments.
The Lazarus Effect is a decent enough little horror film at the end of the day. It delivers exactly what it promises, never outstays its welcome and provides the cheap thrills those seeking such things on a Friday night at the movies are in search of. Why all the indifference then? It’s hard to say really, as while watching the film there was never that special moment where one either falls in love with or despises what is on screen. It just sort of unfolds before you with a certain degree of blahness that is mostly hidden thanks to the talented cast. Horror film fans know what to expect and it provides exactly that, both the good and the bad.
While there are copious amounts of unfilled potential with the premise and a series of unfortunate genre staples such as stupid characters doing stupid things to get themselves killed in violently elaborate ways, there is still some fun to be had with The Lazarus Effect. Both the best and worst thing that can be said about it is that after it is over chances are you won’t think about it too much in neither a positive or negative way. How’s that for a back handed recommendation?