by Adam Riske
I can think of very little reason for you to spend your time or money on The Lazarus Effect. While not a terrible movie (it’s saved slightly by the performances), it is so generic that the fact that it even exists (let alone received a wide theatrical release) is sort of surprising. This is the type of movie that bums me out because the filmmakers don’t seem to want to do anything special or even idiosyncratic with the premise. It could have been entertaining trash cinema, but instead it chooses to be muted and lazy. PG-13 horror movies often get a bad rap and The Lazarus Effect is a textbook example of why there’s some validity to that position.
A team of scientists (Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger) create a serum that can bring animal patients back from the dead. When a freak accident kills one of the scientists, the rest of the team uses the serum to bring that person back to life with dire consequences. As you can tell by the premise, The Lazarus Effect borrows a great deal from other “life after death/to hell and back” movies such as Flatliners, Pet Sematary, Re-Animator and Event Horizon but it falls short of those influences. The Lazarus Effect doesn’t have its predecessors' sense of style, ghoulishness, mood, sense of humor or even gore.
The Lazarus Effect is the first narrative feature of director David Gelb, who made the wonderful documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi a few years ago. None of the nimbleness or energy of that movie made its way to his latest. You could tell in Jiro that the director had a vested interest in that material and it made the movie infectious, but here not so much. As a result, we have a movie lacking in authorship that could have been made by anyone. It’s hacky horror direction with lots of jump scares and overused shots of a dark figure lingering in the background only to pan right and then back left so the "frightening image" is in the foreground next to the protagonist. The best I could say about Gelb’s work is that it’s competently made and good looking.
The Lazarus Effect is just a waste of time; ordinary when it could have been over-the-top or audacious, the movie has nothing on its mind and comes across as a jumbled mess. It’s a pedestrian story hampered by a lame script that is not trying to do anything new with its premise. The cast deserves better and this is a step backward for its talented director. At least the movie’s short at 83 minutes. I wasn’t expecting much from The Lazarus Effect, but I still came away disappointed.