Directed by: David Gelb
The Plot: When a group of SMOTS (smart-hots) get pushed out of their successful resurrection project by a mega-pharmaceutical corporation they are forced to sneak back into their lab to perform an emergency z-section on a dead dog to retain the rights to their experiment. When one of them (Wilde) is killed during the procedure, the canine is scrapped for a bigger and better guinea pig – namely her.
The Film: Who’s in the mood for some soft-core Stuart Gordon? The best horror films are more about invention than convention. We can say that Gordon’s Re-Animator was many things – gross, funny, pubescent, gross – but above all else it was inventive. On the contrary The Lazarus Effect is a much more conventional horror film. As an example, in a movie about resurrecting a corpse in a lab David Gelb decided to give his male lead the name Frank of all things. On the nose much Dr. Gelb?
There’s some interesting stuff with a reanimated dog early in the film that recalls spooky pooch movies of cinema yore. That weird husky with the staring problem in Carpenter’s The Thing. The rampaging St. Bernard in Lewis Teague’s Cujo. Evan Peter’s Clay (the most likable character in this film, certainly the one Gelb uses as his instrument of wink-wink-self-deprecation) even calls the living dead dog “Cujo” at one point. To its credit The Lazarus Effect sports a better than average cast for this brand of entertainment. Reanimated dog included.
There are bigger picture ideas that the film skirts around, but ultimately never devotes any energy to elaborate upon to any real satisfaction. What happens to us when we die? Where do we go? What would we be like if we came back? All interesting building blocks to start a horror/thriller project upon.
So why didn’t anyone build on them?
Mark Duplass’s Dr. Frank is an ambassador of science. His breakthrough creation is a chemical compound – a resurrection paste if you will. He’s not so interested in finding out what lies behind the veil as he is allowing people a longer resuscitation period so that the survival rate for cranial trauma is increased exponentially. Olivia Wilde’s Zoe on the other hand, is a firm believer in the afterlife. Emphasis on firm. Her death is ultimately what pushes this semi-conscious tween resurrection thriller into horror-nova.
Though we can applaud the way David Gelb handles Zoe’s demise (who knew engagement rings made such terrific superconductors?) the way he chooses to handle her return is less satisfying. The Lazarus Effect flirts with the opposing ideas that Zoe’s transformation into Demon-Bride could be the result of a very real stint in The Inferno, or a result of the chemical side effects of Dr. Frank’s Miracle Resurrection Paste.
The girl finds herself caught between being Jane Levy in the Evil Dead remake (still to this day one of my favorite performances in any horror film by any actor) and being Scarlett Johansson in Lucy. Has she become a daughter of the Devil? Or is she simply at the mercy of her super-injected synapses? It’s the one card Lazarus has up its sleeve going into its final act, which, as it so happens, turns out to be the weakest act of the picture.
The issue being that Olivia Wilde – god bless her most precious heart – is too pretty to be effectively scary. The costuming department may have buried the actress under a few coats of zombie face paint and plopped some spooky obsidian contact lenses in her eyes, but you won’t be able to shake the idea that if you could duck and weave a few of her psychic attacks and get in close enough, you might forgo the urge to stove her head in in exchange for a sloppy bout of making-out with her.
Plus, I don’t think the actress fully buys into this transformation anyway. Evil Zoe constantly feels like she’s a half a second away from ending up in an outtake. Not a good vibe for a horror film villain.
The Verdict: At 80 minutes The Lazarus Effect never gets too challenging or too creative with its subject matter. In that respect it plays like a dozy afternoon matinee thriller. It isn’t so chilling as it is chilly. Kind of pointless too. Not that that’s always a bad thing.
The Lazarus Effect opens in theaters nationwide February 27 2015