Synopsis: A group of medical students discover a way to bring dead patients back to life.
Stars: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Ray Wise, Amy Aquino
Director: David Gelb
Running Length: 83 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: The last film director David Gelb helmed was the well-received Jiro Dreams of Sushi from 2011, a documentary about a legendary sushi master and his heir-apparent. Bereft of any creative pulse, The Lazarus Effect sees Gelb go from sushi to turkey in one fell swoop because the only thing that needs reviving at the end of this cheap-o effort are the audiences. Not that Gelb and company don’t try to keep you awake by introducing a host of loud noises and seizure inducing flickering lights at random points along the way…but it’s best to sleep with one eye open so you can make a break for the door by the time the credits roll.
In an unnamed research facility on an unnamed college campus, two scientists (Mark Duplass, Tammy and Olivia Wilde, People Like Us) and their assistants (Donald Glover, The To Do List and Evan Peters, X:Men – Days of Future Past) are joined by a co-ed (Sarah Bolger) filming a documentary on their research. Strangely (and maybe thankfully), given Gelb’s documentary past and aside from some grainy opening footage there’s none of that hand-held camera nonsense until the film reaches its hyperactive finale when the camera swoops around like it’s been tethered to a ceiling fan.
The scientists are working on a formula to re-animate dead animals…all because they eventually want to be able to “give doctors more time” to heal near-death human patients. The first of many scientific miscalculations, the reasoning behind the research comes across more like the movie pitch it most certainly is. Even Duplass and Wilde seem to have trouble making it through relaying their theories of resurrection without cracking a smile.
Now is a good time to really break down how much The Lazarus Effect will remind you of other movies:
Like Flatliners, the film is about a motley crew of apparently brilliant minds making a whole host of stupid decisions and pausing occasionally to talk about what’s on “the other side” and musing about what death really means. Like Lucy, there are discussions about brain activity, how much of our brain we actually use, and what access to all of our potential would do to a person’s psyche. Like Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator, the experimenters become the experimented when fate deals the kind of blow that necessitates speeding up the testing process and moving to human trials. And like Hollow Man, the finale is a cat-and-mouse game where the group is locked in a lab and picked off one by one.
Screenwriters Luke Dawson & Jeremy Slater have Frankenstein-ed their script with so many other ideas that the only interesting thing about the movie becomes matching up the plot points to previously released films. Eventually, the filmmakers totally give up and increase the volume and amount of times the lights are turned off. Seriously, at one point I thought that the evil at work was simply an energy conservationist because the scariest thing they do is turn the lights off at the most inopportune times.
Sometimes in knock-off films like this some fun can be had in some well-crafted moments of bloody gore. I get the feeling the movie was edited down to PG-13 territory because the way that the violence is cut away from suggests post-op censoring of the ickier bits. There’s nary a drop of blood spilled and death either occurs off-screen or in a non-invasive method such as a twisted neck.
Hound dog faced Duplass is hardly the picture of the driven researcher he’s supposed to be playing. Changing his intentions every ten minutes because the script tells him to, there’s a missed opportunity to give the character an edge so Duplass just sits on the middle of the fence for most of the picture. Wilde is his Mozart-loving fiancé and research partner…though he never seems to sleep in the same bed as her as evidenced in three shots of her sleeping in the middle of a bed in the house they share. It’s a strange thing to get hung-up on, I know, but it serves as an example of the lack of attention to detail from Gelb. With a little over an hour to tell the story, there’s not time for much character development so the rest of the cast is hardly worth mentioning (though Bolger is perhaps the best of the bunch).
Between a heap of scientific mumbo-jumbo and sleepy performances by its B-grade cast, the only thing you could put in the pro column for The Lazarus Effect would be that it’s short (83 minutes…including a credit sequence that’s better looking than anything else onscreen) and goes by relatively quickly. Made by Blumhouse Productions (The Purge, Insidious, Sinister) for the low fee of 5 million (yes, that’s now considered a low sum), the film likely won’t have any trouble making that money back from knee-jerk audiences merely in the mood for a cheap thrill.