Don’t let the 2 star rating fool you – there is something to be enjoyed from this claustrophobic little sci-fi horror. The reason for the low rating is that The Lazarus Effect has a lot of potential that goes to waste, including, but not limited to, a fantastic cast, a moody setting and stirring themes and questions raised throughout.
Unfortunately it looks as though director David Gelb has taken the easy way out and done a very journeyman job on the script from Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater. Although admittedly he gets great performances out of Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass, there’s simply too many shortcuts taken with the scary moments and not enough liberties taken with the script to get the most out of the proceedings; characters are killed off faster than their burgeoning sub-plots can be resolved and the concept behind the insanity of one of the main characters is never fully explained.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The plot of The Lazarus Effect revolves around a small team of scientists led by Frank (Duplass) and Zoe (Wilde) who have developed some sort of serum that potentially can enable them to keep flatlining patients alive on the operating table long enough for doctors to have more time to resuscitate them fully. Joining them on the team are Evan Peters’ cocky eCig-smoking Clay and Donald Glover’s tech wiz Niko who harbours a serious amount of feelings for Zoe (supposedly they’re the same age and have known each other since they were a lot younger, but somehow Olivia Wilde still carries an air of appearing several years older). Rounding out the cast is Sarah Bolger (a far inferior actor when compared to the rest of the cast, and it shows) as videographer Eva – and you have to hand it to the filmmakers for not using the opportunity to turn this flick into a found footage farce.
The team ultimately get into a situation where their work is about to be taken from them (hello, needless cameo from Ray Wise! He must not have been busy that day) and so break into the lab after hours to do one more experiment on a recently-deceased dog. Instead, Zoe catches an electric shock and dies. Guess who the Lazarus serum is going to be used on next? The build-up to this moment, is slow, nurtured and earned. Unfortunately, the film loses focus once Olivia Wilde sits up on that gurney in the creepiest way possible; it’s all downhill from there.
The “horror” portion of the film is rushed and unfocused, but throws up the occasional freaky aside or imaginative death. The third act is too confusing and ambiguous for its own good, executing a twist that is pointless and falls flat, with the ending itself prompting the kind of reaction that stands out as “Ok. Now what?”. There is half a good film here; it’s just a shame it has to co-exist with a bad one.
Some behind the scenes featurettes where the film is discussed by the cast and crew; what’s nice is that it isn’t just another one of those 3-minute pieces where bored-looking filmmakers jaw about a film they know to be atrocious but are contractually obligated to big it up for the Home Entertainment release. Here, all the cast and crew fully appreciate the scope of the project and the source material and are happy to be involved, and get into some almost-interesting discussions about the themes of the film. It’s almost more interesting to watch than the film. Also seen: Mark Duplass directing actors on a set where he is not the director. That’s quite funny.
Review by Dan Woburn