Bad horror movies are a dime a dozen. Look in the bargain bin of any retail store that has one and you’re bound to find a whole bunch. You can usually find a pack of 10 for about $5. They’re cheap to make, they don’t need good actors, and they’re usually not terribly concerned with big ideas. So, it’s refreshing when a horror movie comes along and has good actors and ideas on its mind. It’s even more disappointing when a movie has these things for about ten minutes before throwing it all away in order to degenerate into a generic bad horror movie.
The Lazarus Effect is a movie that, for about ten minutes, looks like it’s going to be about big ideas. It would make sense, in that case, why actors like Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde are in the movie; you need good actors to sell these themes properly. But soon enough we learn that the movie simply brings up bigger concepts, does nothing with them, and then becomes an awful horror movie. It hurts more than usual because you can see where more ambitious filmmakers could have taken this premise.
Said premise involves a bunch of scientists creating a “Lazarus” serum, which when combined with electricity and a few other components allows for the resurrection of bodies that had long since been dead. Married couple Frank (Duplass) and Zoe (Wilde) head up the research, joined by two younger guys, Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters). A documentarian, Eva (Sarah Bolger), also tags along, even though everything they’re doing is top-secret — at least until they know it works perfectly.
You can probably already see how this could be used to tell an interesting story. Zoe is religious, so you’ve got that dynamic in play already. Of course, when she gets electrocuted and dies, she’s brought back to life thanks to the serum. We already saw it work, mostly, on a dog, after all. But the dog acted weird. Zoe is acting weird, too. She’s going full-Lucy. Is she possessed? Did she die and go to Hell, bringing back with her a demon? Why is her brain firing on overdrive? And what’s her tragic back story that she dreams about every night?
The answer to all of those questions is simple: “Who cares?” The movie and the filmmakers clearly don’t. She gets psychic powers and becomes evil not to prove a point, not to generate discussion, but because we need someone to lock down the lab and to start killing off the characters, one by one. We don’t get many definitive answers, and those that we do get are inconsequential. The film uses all of this as an overelaborate setup to kill off its characters and let Olivia Wilde make lots of funny faces.
Wilde does get to pull some funny faces, while covered in heavy “evil” makeup. There’s also one where she gets to be smug. It’s unintentionally funny. Actually, a lot of the film is like that. It’s really hard to take this seriously. You begin to wonder why actors like Duplass and Wilde even accepted the project. One presumes they read the script and tried to deliver some of the lines without laughing out loud. You’re more likely to laugh at The Lazarus Effect than be scared.
Most of the attempts to scare us are jump startles, which might make you jump because that’s how they work, but any sense of atmosphere is lacking, as is much progression. Once the kills actually start, we’re really only got about 20 minutes left. They’re generic and make you wonder why whatever Zoe becomes — demon or “Dark Lucy” — takes her time and plays with her food. “Because the movie needs to barely make feature length,” is the real answer. There’s one creepy scene in all of The Lazarus Effect‘s 83-minute running time, and it’s only creepy because it involves a dog.
The Lazarus Effect opens up with promise but soon reveals itself to be nothing more than a generic horror movie that wants to use jump startles and intermittently flashing lights to startle, not scare, the audience. Its big ideas are thrown out the window, any attempt at good acting disappears, and any and all potential it had was disregarded in favor of blandness that’s far funnier than it should be. This is a disappointing movie.