Being a fan of the horror genre is much like being a fan of a sports team (this is an assumption that I’m making based on the reactions of my friends who, unlike me, are huge sports fans). You're always hopeful that it’s going to be a good game and that your team is going to win even though you’re perpetually disappointed and it feels like you lose way more than you win. In the The Lazarus Effect, a team of nerdy and likable scientists have discovered a way to resurrect a dead dog. Lead by Frank and his fiancé Zoe, played by Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde, the team reels with the implications of their new discovery. They can beat death! Unfortunately, their experiments leading to this discovery were unsanctioned by the university and they are shut down, with all of their research and data confiscated by some big chemical corporation. In an attempt to retain proof that they were the progenitors of this scientific discovery, they set off to break in to the lab and conduct one final rogue experiment in order to film it as evidence of it being their intellectual property. As they are conducting the experiment there is an accident, resulting in the violent death of Zoe. In a moment of grief, Frank makes the decision to attempt to resurrect his dead fiancé with the experiment. It is successful and Zoe returns to the living, but something is amiss. Zoe is not the same. Zoe is evil.
The latest horror offering from Blumhouse Productions (the same production company responsible for both The Purge and, oddly, Whiplash) follows suit with previous releases; relatively lower budgets, short shoot time and indie-cred actors. It’s surprising that a movie that comes from a line of productions that are somewhat effective seems to not have taken anything from what those previous films have taught us. It’s an indie-horror movie that focuses too much on the “indie” and not enough on the “horror.” The Lazarus Effect boasts some effective tension building throughout the movie; stuff that just makes large office style buildings creepy at night. Those flickering lights that just set the little hairs on the back of your neck to stand at attention. The random sounds that could be something sinister, or maybe just a settling breeze. Beyond that, the movie fails at almost every turn.
The strongest point about the movie is the casting, but that may also be its weakest point. Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde are affable as quirky scientists, so much in fact that it’s difficult to buy their serious parts when the shit hits the fan. Donald Glover plays the only character in the movie that has a slightly developed story. He’s extremely likable also, but in a way that makes sense when the crazy stuff starts happening.
As a person who has a long standing love for the horror genre, here’s what I thought was wrong with The Lazarus Effect:
1. If you’re going to do a horror movie that is science based, don’t go switching gears mid-movie and toss all of the scientific precedents in exchange for quasi-spiritual mumbo jumbo. Typically, this ends up with some good vs. evil judeo-christian dogma crap and that’s exactly what happens here.
2. The overuse of the jump cut (you know…person is alone, light flickers, person is suddenly standing next to the killer / ghost/ boogeyman) will automatically destroy any sense of ambiance that you’ve spent time building. This movie is crammed with those types of cuts and it’s just not god damned scary. Cut that shit out. It’s lazy.
3. Telekinetic horror hasn’t been scary since Carrie. Feel free to challenge me on this claim, but when all the bad guy has to do is look at some object and then said object goes flying through the air and kills something…c’mon man. Really? That’s the best you got? The Magneto? Not buying it. There’s flying crap all throughout this movie. Ugh.
I could go on, but I think I made my point clear. A fair and likable cast do very little to sell this far out horror movie that just does not deliver the smart scares that horror fans are looking for.
The Lazarus Effect opens nation wide today.