The horror lover inside of me wants to defend The Lazarus Effect against other mainstream failures, but the critic in me can’t let that happen. It’s a mess, but not on the catastrophic level of so many other generically churned-out teenage slashers (like Ouija or The Pyramid).
Director David Gelb strives to fashion together something more, something that blends the conflicting ideologies of religion and science in a heavyweight debate, but scribes Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater didn’t get that memo. The talents of Gelb are outweighed by the overbearing redundancy of Dawson and Slater’s nostalgically horrendous script, as the fires of Horror Film Hell engulf yet another misguided victim. Blumhouse is so close to something special with The Lazarus Effect, but unfortunately, it’s still oh-so-far from heavenly.
In what can be described as our generation’s Re-Animator, a group of scientists discover a serum that brings the dead back to life. Led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée Zoe (Olivia Wilde), they watch as their research is confiscated by greedy investors who want the serum for themselves. Left with an empty lab and a hidden bag of the serum, Frank convinces everyone to give their experiment one last go before the plug is completely pulled – a choice that kills Zoe. Panicking, he decides to make Zoe the first human patient to receive an injection of the serum, and it works! Well, it kind of works. Instead of coming back as herself, Zoe comes back with 100% control of her brain and an evil streak that endangers the rest of her team. Didn’t these characters watch Pet Sematary growing up?
If you smashed Carrie and Lucy together in a brain-unlocking, religiously ambiguous kind of way, the messy remnants would be The Lazarus Effect. This comparison seems like it should be a bigger focal point than what’s haplessly established, but in lieu of panic attacks brought on by flickering lights, Frank and Zoe merely give the topic a quick mention. Don’t worry, Zoe wears a cross pendant around her neck to remind us of her beliefs, but any prospective spiritual debating quickly loses traction once characters start crossing dimensions/realms/worlds/whatever. Religious inclusion is one thing, descending to Hell is another, but Zoe’s ability to transport characters into other locations starts a line of questioning that never meets any answers. It’s like every time we attempt to ponder Zoe’s limitless powers, Geld strokes our head and shows us something shiny as a distraction. “Good boy, now watch the flames flicker some more.”
But give credit where credit is due, because Geld helps elevate this demonic wannabe to levels it most certainly shouldn’t reach by using nothing but atmosphere. Dawson and Slater exhaust every classic horror trick in the book, from faulty electrical work to haunting classical tunes, but Geld manages to keep each pitch-black strobe effect somewhat tense and noticeably sleek – and he’s not a one-man-team.
The Lazarus Effect looks damn good, and it flies by thanks to cinematographer Michael Fimognari’s tight, claustrophobic framing, making the somewhat spacious lab area seem like a sterilized circle of hell. There are a few memorable shots that linger beyond their time – Wilde’s hallway crying à la a Left For Dead witch/her sitting upright under the blanket – but most importantly, Geld’s pacing and Fimognari’s visual eye make The Lazarus Effect feel lightyears shorter than the already slight 83 minutes.
Some people will joke that the film’s best performance comes from a dog named Cato (who actually delivers a very Kristen Stewart-esque performance), but don’t be deceived by such snarkiness – Olivia Wilde is the belle of this hellish ball. The way she cuts between being a confident psychopath and fearful human provides a depth that shouldn’t exist in monsters, as each cold stare pierces with nothing but hateful daggers. Wilde’s vulnerable paranoia acts as a seduction tactic, like a siren calling out for help, but she possesses a wicked side that’s a hellofalotta fun to watch when it appears.
One can’t say the same about her supporting cast, mainly because the likes of Donald Glover and Evan Peters fall into jokester stereotypes, while Duplass becomes rather unlikable. Glover attempts to branch out from his Community days, but he’s relegated to being the token minority who gets axed exactly when you expect it. Peters, on the other hand, provides a jovial stoner vibe that every hard-working research team needs, and while he’s not a nasty diversion from minimal horrors, he definitely feels like a black sheep.
Oh, right! Sarah Bolger fills the quintessential final girl duties, and while her character starts off on wobbly ground, she finishes with a strong confrontation. C’mon, what’s a horror movie without a generic final girl?
Unlike an injection to your cranium, The Lazarus Project is quick and somewhat painless, but the pluses struggle to outweigh this convoluted thinkpiece that’s missing the “think.” David Gelb is able to echo dread off the cold, metallic furnishings of Frank’s lab, but with a script that could have used a shot of the miracle revitalization serum itself, these moments of horror are nothing but surface value beautification. Yet, when compared to the state of modern horror, The Lazarus Effect is still a better offering than we’re used to. It’s a step in the right direction, no matter how small of a step it ends up being.
If you slammed the heads of Lucy and Carrie together, The Lazarus Effect would be the messy aftermath left on the ground.