Better Off Dead: 'The Lazarus Effect' Film Review
by Will Lindus
The first rule of writing for the Internet at large is to never hold back on the snark. If something is bad, it is our job as patrons and contributors to the world wide web to share just how bad that something is using the most abrasive, faux-clever approach possible. And, hey, if something is actually good, we’re just as indebted to tear down any adjacent property for comparison sake.
I sat down at my computer preparing to unleash bile at The Lazarus Effect, a film which by no stretch of the imagination is any good or worth your well-earned dollars. I assume your dollars are well-earned; if you are a purse-snatcher or a career politician, feel free to pick up a ticket and subject yourself to perhaps the most dull horror film I’ve seen in recent history. Therein lies the problem with snark; it works best when you have something to latch on to.
The Lazarus Effect tells the story of a team of scientists who discover a serum that allows them to return life to the recently deceased. After a series of tests on dead dogs, a tragedy forces them to turn to a human subject. They soon discover that the dead come back different, more sinister, than they were in life. If this sounds like Pet Sematery, maybe with a bit of Flatliners or Re-Animator mixed in, then you pretty much know what to expect here.
This is the latest horror outing by Blumhouse Productions, which is perhaps best known for Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and The Purge. Blumhouse Productions has carefully crafted a formula for eliciting scares from an audience, a formula which it displays here with little variation or imagination. I’m not one of those people who finds jump scares to be cheap entertainment; when utilized correctly, a jump scare can add an exclamation mark to a suspenseful scene, or a well-needed break in slow burning tension. The Lazarus Effect feels much more like a mathematical equation than it does a horror film; each jump scare is placed in the most predictable spot possible, with little to no care for the emotional impact the scare should carry.
Dull and predictable is the order of the day, which is surprising for a film directed by David Gelb. Gelb is best known for the inventive and colorful Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary you’ve undoubtedly seen on Netflix already. Perhaps relative inexperience is the problem here; The Lazarus Effect is Gelb’s first narrative feature, and it painfully shows. Missing are creativity and drive, gone are bold, risky moves or innovative story-telling. All that remains is a husk flimsily held together with a by-the-numbers formula.
To their credit, the cast tries to spin gold from this pile of meh. Mark Duplass is one of the most compelling actors working today, and his performance almost saves this film. Almost. Duplass brings nuance and complexity to a character that deserves neither, and his moments on screen are almost delightful. Almost. Olivia Wilde is a strong lead, and during the early moments of the film, you almost sincerely feel for her character. Almost. Poor Evan Peters and Donald Glover, actors whom I have a soft spot for, are dreadfully underutilized, spending the bulk of the film wandering aimlessly hoping for something, anything of note to do.
There are moments towards the beginning of The Lazarus Effect that show promise; before the horror clichés kick in, the characters engage in some rather interesting discussions about the methodologies behind their studies, as well as the moral ramifications of returning the dead to life. In fact, if I had written this review after the first 20 minutes of the movie, I probably would have been much more forgiving, and perhaps even a bit celebratory. As the film wore on, though, it quickly devolved into ‘just another easily digestible horror film.’ Nothing challenging, nothing new, nothing to sink your teeth into. I could gripe a bit about the sound editing, which for some bizarre reason, included sounds of screaming cut into scenes haphazardly and without concern for what was happening on screen. In more interesting films, this would have been something to raise a more critical eye at, but here? Hey, at least listening for the arbitrary sound cues kept my attention during the boring second half of this film.
Should you skip The Lazarus Effect? If my extremely negative review wasn’t clear enough, then yes, you should absolutely skip this film. It won’t make for an interesting theatrical experience and it won’t make for an engaging home viewing experience. In a perfect world, this film would be put out of its misery, a mercy-killing really. And don’t worry about the Lazarus serum bringing this film back from the dead; it never showed much life to begin with.
Oh, hrmn, guess I found my snark after all.
1.5 out of 5 Bear Paws