“The Lazarus Effect” is a reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein.” However, where Frankenstein was a memorable tale of a misunderstood monster, “Lazarus” is a forgettable paint-by-numbers horror story.
The film’s first scene introduces us to the idea that a film student, Eva (Sarah Bolger), will be joining a team of scientists to document a ground-breaking new serum that can reanimate the dead. We soon meet an extremely lackadaisical and under-trained medical staff who are somehow in charge of this major scientific breakthrough. They include an overly obsessive doctor named Frank (Mark Duplass), his wife of three years Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and two random 20-year-olds who appear to be just knowledgeable enough to make the cut, Clay and Niko, as played by Evan Peters and Donald Glover.
The team’s plan is to begin small: experimenting on pigs and dogs and slowly progressing to human trials. After the team’s first success of bringing Rocky the dog back to life, the project is mysteriously shut down. They are somehow shocked that a research lab would be watching over a small team trying to resurrect animals (we’ve all seen “Pet Sematary”). They decided the only way to ensure they do not lose their research, the work of the last four years of their lives, is to break back into the lab and prove their experiment works on video before it is taken from them. That night, in an attempt to bring another dog back to life, Zoe is electrocuted, her heart stops, and despite immediate attention by three doctors, she dies. The only logical course of action? Use the Lazarus serum! When she is resuscitated, it becomes obvious something is not quite right with her and the team must figure out what they have done or face the consequences of their actions.
One thing I am very thankful for is that Eva’s character played a more important role in the movie than just an excuse for having the film footage of this experiment gone wrong. They decided to avoid the current trend of a found-footage style movie, which frankly hasn’t been exciting since the first “Paranormal Activity” movie. Although the character of Eva didn’t make much sense at first, once the footage got leaked, she was an easy suspect. Luckily, she was able to prove her loyalty by sneaking in with them and filming their redemption experiment.
Besides this single, one time event, the characters barely had any personal controversy to overcome and grow from. There were two subplots involving potential relationships, however the characters had no interest in interacting; mind you, this movie only had five characters. They merely accepted things as they were, such as the failing marriage between Zoe and Frank, and didn’t speak of them. Dialogue in general was scarce and not in an artistic way either. This led to little to no character development, which was such a shame considering the surprisingly talented cast. Mark Duplass has already proven he can carry a movie on his own in the indie film “The One I Love,” and choosing not to have him move the story along was a mistake.
Whether its directors were attune to it or not, “The Lazarus Effect” did seem to hint at some other famous horror films. The title sequence was very reminiscent to that of “American Horror Story,” which stars Evan Peters. It was full of tight macro lens shots of strange and eerie totems from the film. Although it ended up backfiring, the team also had a great evil henchmen-like switch to electrify the dead back to life, a staple of Doctor Frankenstein. One of the major scenes in the movie was a horrific nightmare in which a little girl stole matches and ended up burning down an apartment building. This, I hope, was an homage to the classic thriller, “The Shining,” where one of the twins was mentioned to have tried to burn the hotel down. These were all subtle nods, but if caught they made the movie a little more enjoyable.
Now for arguably the most important part of a horror film review, how scary it was. Overall it was a little subpar for the course when comparing it to movies of similar caliber, such as “Oculus” or “The Woman in Black.” It didn’t rely too heavily on jump scares, which is good since a jump scare only really works once or twice. It instead focused on two things: mystery and a methodical all-powerful antagonist. By never explaining what was enabling the villain to do these horrible things, it allows your imagination to wonder, which is often more frightening than what can be put on screen.
The movie unfortunately was just too similar to other horror movies out there and certainly didn’t help itself with its poor writing. If you need a good date movie this can be at the top of your list for this weekend, but other than that there isn’t much reason to give it a watch. “The Lazarus Effect” held a lot of potential and it did have a solid premise, but by not allowing great actors to bring their parts to life, the film fell apart.