“The Lazarus Effect” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux


What do you get when you take one part “Flatliners,” throw in some “Pet Sematary,” add in a whole lot of “Re-Animator,” and sprinkle in cliché’s from a dozen other recent horror films? Well, you’ve got yourself “The Lazarus Effect,” the latest horror opus from Relativity Media and Blumhouse Productions.

This film concerns a group of research scientists led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), partners and lovers (sort-of). Along with their crew of Niko (Donald Glover), Clay (Evan Peters) and camerawoman Eva (Sarah Bolger), the group decides to experiment with the medical resurrection of a dead dog, using a newly developed serum dubbed “Lazarus.” While the dog, affectionately named “Rocky” by the group, does manage to return to the land of the living, there are some peculiarities present in his re-awakened condition. He’s plagued by off-and-on aggressiveness, no desire for food, and a serum which hasn’t dissipated, causing his unfortunate brain to work overtime.

While the ethical jury is still out on the fate of this poor canine, our favorite researchers decide to give it another go and Zoe is accidentally electrocuted to death. When all attempts at resuscitation fail, Frank naturally decides that if it worked for Rocky, then he can surely bring Zoe back. Despite the pleas of everyone else in the room, Frank crosses that line and Zoe is brought back to life. However, her readjustment stage makes Rocky’s seem as if he were man’s best friend during a slightly miffed day. She’s certainly not herself, she sees and hears things that aren’t there and is constantly reliving a nightmare from her childhood. Is this Zoe’s version of Hell on Earth? When Frank administers a CT scan, we see that her neural activity is creating pathways throughout her entire brain and it isn’t long before Zoe acts as if she’s the long-lost offspring of “Lucy” and “Carrie,” while threatening destruction to everyone in the research facility.

“The Lazarus Effect” has the makings of a good film. Instead, what we get is a mediocre film, albeit an entertaining one. With a very intelligent first half, this film suffers in the second part due to its attempt at being twenty horror movies rolled into one. Seriously, how many times do we have to see the eyes turning black, the little girl standing at the other end of a long hallway, or the demonically-induced crow’s feet on a “possessed” character’s face? This movie had so much better to offer than that, but I will give it proper kudos for a highly original ending that almost makes up for the repetitive drivel in the last half-hour.

What “The Lazarus Effect” does succeed greatly at is its casting. “Indie King” Mark Duplass (Safety Not Guaranteed, The One I Love) gives a refreshing performance as Frank, and the fact that it’s a mainstream movie doesn’t seem to matter in the least! And what else can be said about the beautiful and versatile Olivia Wilde, who elevates every production that she is associated with. She effectively conveys the all-inclusive gamut of emotions that is required of the “post-death” Zoe character, from hysteria to dissociation to the sinister “I’m staring a hole right through you” look! Evan Peters (American Horror Story, X-Men: Days of Future Past) provides some well-balanced comic relief here, and is surely a young actor to watch for in the near future.

This film was directed by David Gelb, a name which may be unfamiliar to most moviegoers, but he filmed a terrific documentary in 2011 by the name of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” While I would like to see him at the helm of more top-notch entertainment like that, it is also promising that this talented young filmmaker was given the reins on a conventional property such as “The Lazarus Effect,” and probably rescued this movie from the bad-horror abyss that other recent Blumhouse Productions have been relegated to, such as “Ouija” and “Jessabelle.”

** (two out of four stars)


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