THE LAZARUS EFFECT
***1/2 (out of 5)
February 27, 2015
Mark Duplass as FRANK
Olivia Wilde as ZOE
Sarah Bolger as EVA
Evan Peters as CLAY
Donald Glover as NIKO
Directed by: David Gelb
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Ever since I was a young kid, I have enjoyed science fiction and horror films. Even the cliched, formula ones. I was a huge fan of “The Twilight Zone,” watching the Labor Day marathon our local television station ran each year. So, as I have grown older, the kinds of stories that can be described as “Twilight Zone type stories” has never been a bad thing for me. In fact, I have a lot of fun watching them, even if they can be a little cheesy.
“The Lazarus Effect” is one of those kinds of movies. It’s nothing terribly original, but I’m okay with that. Sure, we’ve seen a lot of this before – and the trailers themselves are so spoilery that it gives away what happens well through the second act of the film. However, like a good romantic comedy, this kind of movie is just as much about the execution of the idea as the idea itself.
On top of the “Twilight Zone” angle to this movie, it also features the type of story that I have always enjoyed: scientists in a lab trying to do something that benefits humanity, only to make some really terrible decisions and then have everything go horribly awry.
The story follows a group of medical researchers who have developed a serum that can be injected into a dead animal’s brain and bring them back to life. However, when the company funding their research snatches their findings out from under them, they decide to continue the experiments for their own benefit. During an unfortunate accident, one of the researchers is killed, and fueled by grief, they decide to bring her back to life. What could possibly go wrong?
The concepts in this film are not terribly new, but they are effectively presented. It’s a relatively simple story, delivering a somewhat standard bag of PG-13 horror tricks. The bulk of the film is about atmosphere than it is about scaring its audience. Still, even though the violence and effects are safely bloodless, the film doesn’t feel particularly sanitized for its rating.
The film stars an interesting array of television actors, including Olivia Wilde (13 from “House M.D.”), Mark Duplass (from FX’s “The League”) and Donald Glover (Troy from “Community”). This gives the cast a certain degree of credibility, and it’s interesting to see people like Duplass and Glover performing outside of their standard comedy roots. However, these are clearly television actors in a feature film, so it doesn’t feel like it’s aiming too high.
When the story really escalates with the reanimation scene, things happen over the course of only a few hours in the chronology of the film. This helps with the believability factor because even though these are smart people, they’re making bad decisions throughout. However, with the relative speed with which the final act moves, there’s little time for them to actually second guess or try to correct said bad decisions.
Sure, the delivery of the scares – if you could honestly call them that – are done in a very familiar way. There’s lots of flickering lights and lots of shakycam that happens. I’m okay with this as these techniques aren’t the only way the film relies on revealing the creepier moments. And there are some definite creepy moments, mostly delivered by a very game Olivia Wilde finding her own as a spectre. She could go far in horror movies if she allowed herself a trip down that rabbit hole.
Another element to this film that I really liked was the fact that it avoided the temptation of being a found footage movie, which I generally hate and find very lazy in terms of filmmaking. With one of the characters as a documentarian videotaping the entire process, it’s easy to imagine this was originally conceived as a found footage movie.
Fortunately, it is traditionally shot without using found footage as a crutch. This allows the movie to get more into the heads of the individual characters and present a bigger movie than the normally constricted trappings of that genre.
Yeah, “The Lazarus Effect” isn’t a groundbreaking film, and it follows a definite formula, but it does so with a fully committed delivery and some solid horror film moments.