‘The Lazarus Effect’: A Talented Cast + A Predictable Plot = A Not Unmemorable Movie (review)
Written By: Lois Kennedy
Director: David Gelb
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, Ray Wise
An offering from Blumhouse Productions. Zoe is a doctor who along with her fiance Dr. Frank and partners Niko and Clay have developed a serum that in conjunction with electric stimulation can bring dead animals back to life. When Zoe is electrocuted and killed, a distraught Frank brings her back as well. The results are less than felicitous, as Zoe is rapidly gaining abilities like telekinesis and telepathy, not to mention becoming supernaturally cranky, and is a danger to everyone around her.
The most striking aspect of the film is its depiction of the dangers of playing God. While the scientists are humbly trying only to help people, they have the arrogance to name their serum after a miracle reserved for Jesus and not science. As Zoe ponders about their revived test subject Rocky, “What if we ripped him out of doggie heaven, or something?” Zoe, unlike Frank, has a modicum of religious beliefs. (Which doesn’t stop her from living with a man she’s not married to, just sayin.) There a few similarities to Frankenstein, like the use of electricity and making it look like the experiment failed when it didn’t. (Though Zoe is the main developer of the serum, Frank is the one who puts it to the test on a human, making him the Victor Frankenstein to her Frankenstein’s monster.) Going along with the Christian motif, Zoe’s ill-gotten powers are the result of her neural pathways being overused; instead of using ten percent of her brain at a time, she’s evolving past what a human was intended to and using her entire brain.
Olivia Wilde puts in an impressive performance as Zoe. Her withering glare beats CGI and makeup for creepiness, though those make her look creepy too. I had to stop myself from using more than three images of her.
Otherwise in terms of attempts at horror, ineffective jump scares dominate. There is an odd scene when Rocky climbs up on Zoe’s bed and stares down at her, which calls to mind Paranormal Activity. The film brings up but doesn’t really utilize completely the disturbing notion that a lifetime of good deeds and one mistake can damn a person to hell for eternity. Thankfully, the movie avoids the overused idea of each person (instead of just Zoe) experiencing his or her personal hell.
The movie ends abruptly and is fairly short, about 80 minutes before credits. (Sidebar, don’t be like me and wait through the credits for an extra scene—there isn’t one.) It has an uneven feel, like it was passed around by too many writers. Case in point being post-revival Zoe, who alternates from being a smartass, taunting devil to being a crispy, feral rage monster—she’s either Pazuzu from The Exorcist or Alessa from Silent Hill, and you can’t be both. Some of the deaths have foreshadowing, and some are random and baffling. Overall, while it’s fairly predictable and derivative, it has its interesting points. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for a demon movie with a budget and actors you’ll probably recognize.
Rating: 3.5/5, plus an extra half point for not making it found footage/documentary style, which it totally could have been since a character is making a documentary of the experiment.
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