Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: The Lazarus Effect

by Adam Riske
I will have forgotten The Lazarus Effect by the time I finish writing this review.

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.
This is strictly mindless, short-attention-span cinema. The movie almost seems afraid to explore any of its themes, as if you’ll get bored if it showed any depth, so it moves from one idea (or relationship) to another clumsily without really delving into any of them. Disappointing for a movie about death, The Lazarus Effect has very little curiosity or imagination about that subject or of the afterlife. Instead we get the clich├ęd trope of a character suffering trauma over their deep-seated guilt from a mistake from their childhood. I hate it when movies do this. Nothing neuters the climax of a horror movie more than the psychological conflict of a little kid. This movie reminded me a lot of those Dark Castle movies from the late '90s and early 2000s, like fucking Ghost Ship, that never worked.

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.
On a positive note, the performances are strong and the cast make for an appealing ensemble. This is what drew me to the movie in the first place (that and the supernatural premise) and it’s the one area the movie doesn’t disappoint. Donald Glover, Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger are given stock characters with little to do, but Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass impress and elevate some very thin characters into people I almost cared about. They do what they can with the material. It’s much more a problem of the writing than any of the performances; their character arcs are very haphazardly fleshed out. I’d love to see this cast in a movie more worthy of their talents, like an indie horror production with a strong script. They are the only thing that keeps this movie from being a total bore.

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.


  1. So bummed to see this (and so many similar reviews). Co-screenwriter Jeremy Slater was (along with Devin Faraci) one of my favorite voices over at, a site I stopped visiting after they left and it became a place of seemingly constant free-flowing negativity and hostility. I've been really excited to see what Slater does as a screenwriter, but from all sources this appears to be an inauspicious start. I haven't had time to go see it (or anything else for that matter) yet but I want to support smart-and-funny-internet-movie-guy-gets-to-make-movies. Also, Olivia Wilde.

    1. ^^^ In Slater's defense, though, we don't know if maybe his script and original vision were strong but then got diluted by studio pressure (PG-13 versus R) and the director's choices. He probably shoulders blame for the movie not living up to expectations, but we don't know how much it's him and how much it's circumstances beyond his control.

      At least Mark Duplass got a paycheck and will use that money to finance better movies for he and his brother to work on, like "The One I Love." :-)

  2. The best thing The Lazarus Effect has going for it is the cast and their chemistry. They’re all affable and engaging.