The horror genre has seen reboots, good old slasher films, and others that are just a bit more developed in terms of plot. The Lazarus Effect falls between being a good old-fashioned horror flick and a thinky film about science, our brains, and evaluating their own take on a different kind of hell and death. It never ventures into either category quite as deeply, but between the excellent cast and an interesting plot line, the film keeps a good pace and is decently entertaining given what it sets up to accomplish.
Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are scientific partners who have spent the better part of 4 years trying to develop what they call the “lazarus serum”, which they want used to help further the medical field and help keep cognitive functions alive longer and intact while medics try and revive someone. They’ve come a long way and their university grant money has helped further their research and tests significantly. Along with their team (Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger), they seek to break new ground.
Thinking they’ve hit the jackpot when they successfully bring back a dog from the dead, all their hope (and research) disappears when the pharmaceutical company holding the grant seizes all their equipment and data. Desperate to prove that they’re the ones who created the serum, they illegally head back into the lab to try and recreate the experiment, with very catastrophic results.
The Lazarus Effect doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It doesn’t have as much plot depth like Insidious does, nor does it need to. It plays in the sandbox that is science and the religious association with the aftermath of death in various ways, all for the purpose of its own plot. It is similar to Flatliners in some ways and definitely not as showy in its gore as You’re Next and other films like it.
The story is decently balanced between its plot and the horror aspect. The scares are somewhat predictable and expected, but nonetheless welcome when they do appear. Wilde’s transformation and character evolution is pretty well done, though, given the time frame. The film is a mere 83 minutes, but this is just enough time to get to the main aspect of the film without having it overstay its welcome, which horror films should never do. The way the film is shot is dark and edgy, the perfect kind of setting for the characters who find themselves trapped in more ways than one. There’s an open plot point that never gets answered and given the ending, it seems they leave it open for interpretation or, most likely, a sequel.
The film is well acted, Olivia Wilde being the standout with her uncharacteristically disturbing and creepy performance as Zoe. In fact, one can easily compare it to last year’s Scarlett Johansson film Lucy in terms of the evolution of the brain, but it is strangely played out in a more effective way. And while it isn’t as deep as it could have tried harder to be or as horrific as other horror films, TheLazarusEffect does what its job in creating a decently balanced film in combining horror, some good technical aspects, and science fiction wrapped up in the worldly questions about death.
Release Date: February 27, 2015 | Director: David Gelb | Screenwriters: Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater | Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger | Genre: Horror | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, and some sexual references

About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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