TwitView: Fantastic setup, believable characters, and genuine chills all get hobbled by a lack of a satisfying ending and a screenplay that’s all over the place. It’s as if the director was running out of film and said “yeah, one last gotcha scene and it’s a wrap.” C-
It’s no secret that I’m a horror movie junkie. So when The Lazarus Effect hit the screening rounds, I jumped at it. And enjoyed a good part of it…until it got lost in it’s own storyline and cheaped out by pulling the usual “gotcha!” ending that has been
beaten to death popular since the 90s. Pity, as there’s some genuinely unique and well executed moments in this film.
This film got my interest with a killer trailer, and the promise of more from the folks that brought us Insidious, The Purge, and Paranormal Activity. And by “folks”, I mean the producer. Director David Gelb has done good documentary work (protip: catch the wonderful Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix. You’re welcome.) However, The Lazarus Effect is his first dramatic effort, and it’s a mess, jumping from scene to scene, subplot to subplot. I’m betting Gelb would have been okay, if he’d had a strong screenplay to rely on, but Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater are newbies as well, which makes for a hodgepodge of abrupt scene shifts, dangling subplots and unanswered questions. Luckily they’ve got real talent in front of the screen, and that helps save this film from sinking into total dreck.
What I loved best about this film is Olivia Wilde; she looks like she’s enjoying the hell out of this film. Her performance is top-notch, as if someone forgot to tell her than a horror film doesn’t exactly need great performances. She delivers one though, and it elevates the film. In fact, all the performers here do good work. Especially Evan Peters — my favorite Quicksilver (sorry, Aaron T-J) — is a hoot as the too-smart-and-cool-for-this-room Clay, and Donald Glover as the passed-over-in-love Niko. Glover’s comedic work is excellent, but he has strong dramatic chops too, if this is any indication.
I did love the start of this film thought. The Lazarus Effect not only dives into the idea of bringing folks back from the dead — paging Dr. Frankenstein! — it also digs into the life of the person whose life will be upended by these experiments. And by upended I mean she dies, is brought to life, and then gets amped by…demons? Herself? The serum? There are no answers, no hints or deeper thoughts beyond “hey, lets’ use the black sclera contacts on Olivia — she’d look spooky!” She does, no doubt. And her terror at what she’s becoming is palpable, and a refreshing change of pace from the usual add-water-and-stir instant baddie. But as soon as her eyes go full black, it’s all dropped by the wayside. Forget trying to make sense out of what happened to her, it’s the Blinking Lights And Telekinesis Show y’all!
Once folks start dying, all thoughts to keeping this up to the level of films like The Purge and Paranormal Activity get thrown by the wayside. What I would have liked to have seen was more about Zoe’s past. Her nightmares, and the truth/history behind them. Was there more to them than the simple fact that a child could only do so much? Did Zoe have a hidden bit of evil in her from all those years ago? Was she a Bad Seed that had done much to try to get over her past, or was she in the wrong place at the wrong time? But her past is brought to viewers as a tantalizing idea of where the film will go…and then it’s used as a prop, nothing more. Same goes for the Evil Corporate People who come in midpoint. Who are they? Are they up to no good? Who cares — they’re introduced, and never heard from again. That sound you hear is another good idea dying. Digging into character motivation would have had me rooting for these characters to survive, but even though a few delicious tidbits of backstory are thrown to the audience — tidbits that could have been used to build deaths that really mattered — when it’s time to die these folks are nothing but telekinesis fodder. Bye-bye…
The Lazarus Effect ticks me off more than it should, and that’s because this film showed great promise at the start. But with a main cast of 5 the kills aren’t big enough (or gory enough; most deaths are off-screen or cut-aways) for the gore crowd, and the screenplay isn’t cerebral enough for the thinking-horror fan. Add muddled storytelling and a feeling that this film dragged on much longer than it’s scant 83 minute run time, and The Lazarus Effect is a movie that’s big on promise and short on delivery.