I wish I could say that The Lazarus Effect will turn out to be one of this year’s worst horror movies, but I know the genre too well to honestly predict that a rote, paint-by-numbers horror-thriller that squanders a good idea on poorly executed jump scares could hold that distinction.
No, there will be worse horror movies than The Lazarus Effect this year. But that doesn’t mean that this “scarer,” Blumhouse’s latest and most pathetic attempt to birth a franchise yet, is worth your time. Not at all. Chief among its many sins are squandering a premise that actually flickers with promise, a cast packed with fresh-faced talent and a setpiece that could have been genuinely terrifying in the right hands.
It all starts off with an interesting idea: what if scientists, messing with forces they did not understand, played God and brought one of their own back from the dead after a lab accident? When Frank (Mark Duplass) watches his co-worker and wife Zoe (Olivia Wilde) die via electrocution during an experiment gone wrong, he doesn’t even stop to question whether using their imperfect serum, codenamed Lazarus and seemingly effective at reanimating dead things, is a good idea. And so Zoe is brought hurtling back to the land of the living – but, immediately, it becomes clear that she hasn’t come back alone. Cue lots of telekinetic battiness, demonic intonation and dumb, dead scientists.
Any number of horror-movie failings can typically be explained away by a terrible script, and The Lazarus Effect is definitely saddled with one of those, spouting so much off-the-wall science gobbledygook that it will remind you of something a 10-year-old Doctor Who fanboy might come up with during a particularly frenzied geek-rant. It’s basically Lucy and Flatliners with a dash of Carrie, minus any modicum of intelligence or nuance that those three films possessed. Sure, cribbing plots from better movies is not a novel practice, particularly in horror, but it’s done here with such blandness and lethargy that one questions why the screenwriters even got paid.
Still, the cardinal sin is director David Gelb – in his doc Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the helmer demonstrated a sumptuous eye for detail and a genuine affection for his subject. Here, though, his work behind the camera is plainly uninspired, simply moving the film from dull scene to dull scene without ever injecting the energy or tension a minimalist horror pic like this requires. The direction here is straight-up lazy in places, relying on sudden crescendos to execute increasingly ineffective jump-scares, and boring in others.
By the time Zoe begins to wreak havoc on her team, revealing telekinetic abilities and devious intentions, The Lazarus Effect seems to be getting ready to go somewhere. But then, just as you lean forward in your chair, it ends – abruptly, terribly, in such a way that makes you question how the entire movie, once that finale was set, ever got the green light. It buries its solid cast down deep, strands them with paltry dialogue and picks up astoundingly little momentum as it goes.
For a movie about a reanimated corpse, The Lazarus Effect could have used some life of its own.
On Blu-Ray, The Lazarus Effect offers a shadow-drenched 1080p presentation that is occasionally strong and usually just about solid (less a product of the actual image quality and more the minuscule budget). Detail is great throughout, though the dark feel of the film does blot out some finer image points. The film’s unfortunate use of found-footage in places turns the quality down a few notches, which makes it a little hard to get fully engrossed in the picture, but there’s nothing seriously amiss with this transfer.
In terms of sound, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is potent, conjuring up the film’s few scary moments through sheer volume alone (not a good thing, of course, but that’s hardly the fault of the sound team). Dialogue is surprisingly well-prioritized even when the soundtrack is swelling and all hell is breaking loose, and if anything is going to hold viewers’ attention despite the awful plot and unremarkable direction, it’s how The Lazarus Effect sounds.
Bonus features include:
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (4:25)
- Creating Fear: The Making of The Lazarus Effect (14:27)
- Playing God: The Moral Dilemma (7: 46)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:15)
Nothing really interesting to report here, just standard EPK fare with a handful of interviews interwoven with scenes from the movie. “Creating Fear” is the most involving of the bunch, but there are still very few genuinely intriguing points that it makes.
The Lazarus Effect offers decent video and audio, but the film itself is just such a waste of celluloid that it’s impossible to recommend. There’s a great chiller to be made from its admittedly cobbled-together parts, but this one just takes too long to get going and never actually goes anywhere. If nothing else, it’s an effective sell for Wilde as a demon-possessed terror – but even in that department, her committed performance is partly undone by the egregious dialogue she has to read. The Lazarus Effect is one of those Frankenstein-esque horrors, sewn together by mad-scientist screenwriters with no regard for their audience’s intelligence. It deserves a quick death by bargain bin.
Watching The Lazarus Effect is like keeping your eyes peeled to a cadaver's cardiac monitor and waiting for something interesting to happen.