Movie Review: The Lazarus Effect (2015)
by Alan F. Zundel
Hampered by a Frankenstein’s monster of a script, “The Lazarus Effect” lumbers across the screen invoking pity for the actors who squandered their creative energies trying to give life to this monstrosity. The plot is sewn together from different pieces that might have fit together in defter hands, but here do not jell.
The main piece of the plot is an updated Frankenstein story of an attempt to bring the dead to life. Olivia Wilde plays Zoe McConnell, a medical researcher whose interest in reviving the dead seems to stem from guilt over a fatal event in her childhood. Mark Duplass is Frank Walton, her colleague and fiancé. Their differences about science and religion, the latter element hinted at in the title, could have made the story more interesting if it had been explored with any depth.
Instead the writers went for a pastiche of different types of thriller genres. In addition to the Frankenstein plot piece, there is the old haunted house storyline of a group of people trapped in an enclosed space being killed off one by one. (This theme was updated from detective mysteries to science fiction many years ago in the much better 1951 film, “The Thing From Another World.”) Then there is the Japanese horror trope of a creepy girl with lank hair and a white robe creeping around and jumping out suddenly. To top it all off, there is the serum-that-speeds-up-brain-evolution-to-supernatural-powers concept from last year’s “Lucy.”
The effect is not additive, the sum more than the parts, but subtractive, one theme competing with another to define the movie and none of them succeeding. To stitch them all together the director, David Gelb, relies on shock shots—the audience cued by music and point of view to anticipate a shock, climaxed by something jumping in at the last moment. There are plenty of those, if that’s what you’re looking for. I jumped several times.
But I hoped for more than that. The premise sounded promising. I think the initial concept was good, but somewhere along the line either the writers (Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater) or the producers (five people are credited, perhaps too many cooks for the broth) decided to take the lazy road and make a schlocky shocker rather than a memorable horror story.
The script also suffers from the usual horror movie set of supposedly smart characters who do very stupid things. They revive a dead dog and know something is wrong with it, but bring it home as though it’s a pet. They turn their backs on dangerous creatures. They split up when they should stay together. They try to hide things from someone with psychic powers.
The sole point of interest near the end was how the writers could possibly bring it all to a satisfying conclusion, and guess what—they don’t.
Olivia Wilde is better than the script, seeming to revel in playing against her pretty-girl looks by becoming a “Grudge”-like creepy dead-but-not-dead woman. Sarah Bolger and Evan Peters bring energy to their supporting roles, but supporting actor Donald Glover and principal Duplass look like they regret having signed on and just want to get it over with.
Director Gelb does a serviceable job for the most part; the story moves along and the actors do their jobs. There is an over-reliance on scenes where the lights suddenly go out, but otherwise the lightening and photography are fine. He does not build much suspense though, excepting the brief moments of anticipating the inevitable upcoming shock-shot.
In one scene a character deliberately references the classic 1931 version of “Frankenstein” by speaking Colin Clive’s famous line, “It’s alive! It’s alive!! IT’S ALIVE!!!” This may have been meant as irony or it may have been meant as homage, but “The Lazarus Effect” suffers by the comparison. “Frankenstein” lives on. “The Lazarus Effect,” I suspect, will not.