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Suzanne L., Here…
Perhaps it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem like directors often follow an acclaimed documentary with a horror film. David Gelb, the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, did just that when taking on The Lazarus Effect, a movie by horror production company Blumhouse. With a talented cast and new take on the Frankenstein’s monster trope, Gelb creates a movie with genuine scares that missed an opportunity to delve into larger issues.
We know the answer to the question of the movie right off…should we play God and bring the dead back to life? This question will never be answered in the affirmative in the horror movie genre. But creating stories around this question should allow the audience to contemplate larger issues.
In The Lazarus Effect, research physicians Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) who are close to completing work to create a special serum. Working with their assistants Clay (Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover), Frank and Zoe hope the serum will bring recently deceased patients back from the dead long enough to give doctors time to save them. The team’s aim is the greater good.
Feeling like they are close enough to a workable product, the team brings Eva (Sarah Bolger)a student videographer, in to help document their work on animal testing. After successfully bringing a dog back to life, the team is elated until a pharma company with tenuous ties to their funding crashes the party, taking all of the research and work that they’ve done. Not ready to give in Frank and Zoe go against the rules to conduct one more experiment, but when Zoe ends up being the subject, the horror begins.
The acting was not really the problem with the film. Mark Duplass is solid as usual – though this is a departure from the films he normally takes on. The themes in The One I Love were creepy, but it wasn’t outright horror. Olivia Wilde also delivers as the monster, though she does owe some of this to decent CGI and makeup. Also, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, and Sarah Bolger have all been respected for work in well-known TV shows. They bring that experience to this film. If anything, it feels like it is a bit of a waste of this cast.
Where the movie really fails is time, details, and the opportunity for more terror. At only 83 minutes there is not a lot of script to devote to discussing the larger issues of bringing someone back to life. There are minor discussions of God, the chemical DMT (which is supposed to be the cause of the ‘white light’ experience), the soul, etc., but the movie barely touches on these. Though the film is named for some kind of effect, we’re never told exactly what this is. Zoe’s character when brought back develops fantastic new powers, but is it due to the fact that she might be inherently evil or the serum. We don’t know and it’s never truly explored.
A further use of those themes with more time to truly build the feeling of apprehension and terror would have done this movie a lot of good. There are some genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but most of them are pretty predictable. You known this is the spot where something is going to happen so it is time to be scared. At least, they mostly avoided the gore that some films use to make up for yawn worthy scares.
2 out of 5 Stars
– Suzanne Loranc