A recurring theme of the horror movie franchise is that playing God comes with consequences. We’ve seen this all too many times. However, “Lazarus Effect” manages to bring some originality into the equation. Hindered by a PG-13 rating, the film does its best to work with what it has. In other words, I respect “The Lazarus Effect” for trying.
Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and her husband Frank (Mark Duplass) are two ambitious medical researchers striving to give others a second chance at life. Along with their colleagues Clay (Evan Peters), Niko (Donald Glover) and the intern, Eva (Sarah Bolger), the team works towards bringing the dead back to life. Once they resurrect Rocky the dog, a subsequent experiment causes Zoe to get electrocuted and a distraught Frank abuses his newfound knowledge to raise Zoe from the dead as well. Slowly, an evil force consumes Zoe, and the team learns their lesson.
The star-studded cast definitely contributes to the film, despite there being little depth in characterization. The writers sprinkle little bits of character conflicts and just assume the audience will interpret the severity of it without actually seeing anything on screen. From what we know, Niko is in love with Zoe, which is only addressed during a late-night sushi scene. Also during that scene, Zoe tells Niko that the research has distracted Frank from marrying her. The chemistry is too forced, not due to the acting, but due to the absurd dialogue. The writers spend too much time trying to make their characters sound intelligent so when they actually have unscientific conversations, it is rather uncomfortable. As if this needed clarification, the writers include a geeky board game and World of Warcraft just to reveal how nerdy their characters are. Clay making snarky comments while smoking his e-cigarette is enough to make anyone roll their eyes.
The film also suffers from the hide-and-seek aspect. Towards the end, there are so many blackouts that you just want Zoe to come out and kill everyone already. We get it, she can turn off the lights. A few lights flickering here and there are eerie, but that shouldn’t be the sole element to make this film suspenseful. Zoe’s hollow black eyes and web-like dark veins are reminiscent of “X-Men” character the Phoenix, and I kept hoping for more, maybe some fangs or sharp claws…anything. If the film is going to be flooded with jump scares, then make the audience actually fear what they are seeing, not just experience the sudden jolt and move on. These jump scares are entirely predictable and reminiscent of other films. Niko’s pig mask gives an unneeded salute to the Saw franchise. A death early on happens to be sufficiently chilling as well as creative, which the film needed but failed to utilize throughout its run.
When all is said and done said, “The Lazarus Effect” is definitely entertaining. The movie incorporates the argument of science versus religion and one particular discussion was especially intriguing. Frank explains to Eva that there is a white light when you pass away, but it is solely due to the DMT flooding your brain. From a scientific perspective, Zoe agrees, but she also suggests the DMT is facilitating the soul to move from one door to another. The camera constantly zooming in on Zoe’s wedding ring and cross necklace throughout the film is no coincidence– symbolism at its finest. “The Lazarus Effect” includes another topic of discussion as well: what if humans could use one hundred percent of their brains? Telekinesis and telepathy play key roles in the film. Zoe is also shown as being haunted by the same reoccurring nightmare before she is even brought back and in an effort to avoid spoilers, I will merely say that the explanation is quite interesting. Along with the jaw-dropping ending, these all work to the film’s advantage.
“The Lazarus Effect” does what it can with the material and hindrances it has. Unfortunately, that is not enough to save the film.
Sammi Brennan can be reached at Samantha.Brennan@spartans.ut.edu