When the first line of a film is, ‘This pig smells like shit,’ you’re hoping it’s not an ironic bit of foreshadowing for the quality of what you’re about to endure. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the case for The Lazarus Effect, a bland sci-fi horror flick that reeks of crappy genre clichés from the get-go. Rarely does my cat’s litter box have a more inspired visceral effect on me than what typically plays in multiplexes across the country, no matter how putrid it may be.
Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde star as Frank and Zoe, two lovey-dovey scientists who are dedicated to formulating a serum with the ability to bring the deceased back to life. Well, at least their test subject of a dead dog, although I’m sure you can already predict where everything will spiral downward for these dopey doctors later on. Their equally attractive team of models, I mean, scientists, consists of Sarah Bolger as their videographer, Donald Glover as the smartest guy in the room that nobody ever listens to, and Evan Peters as an obnoxious stoner who’d rather play World of Warcraft.
Once Zoe is electrocuted and pronounced dead following a fatal accident, Frank shoots her up with the serum that cured their beloved pooch and she’s miraculously revived. However, Zoe immediately goes cuckoo following her resurrection; black veins appear all over her body, she’s able to finish people’s sentences before they do, and suffers from vivid flashbacks that recall a childhood trauma. Before long, she’s in full Carrie mode, fueled with telekinetic rage and whacking off each of her buddies one by one in all of the movie’s hackneyed PG-13 carnage.
Jesus, I’m dozing off just writing about this snoozefest. For a film that clocks in at under an hour-and-a-half, I myself felt as if I’d come back from the dead once it’s excruciatingly dull 83-minutes were finally over. Several mainstream horror films over the past few years have been constructed in the most cheap, insultingly manipulative techniques possible. To be so mercilessly boring, though, is a much greater sin altogether.
Perhaps it’s the fact that there was so much talent assembled for this picture that made it so painful to slog through, as well as why I’m being so harsh towards its half-assed execution. Much to my amazement, David Gelb, who previously made the fascinating documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi nearly three years ago, is the director behind this dreary piece of cinema. Based on his previous work, it’s clear that Gelb has talent; nonetheless, his heart couldn’t be more distant from this material. His scenes lack any sense of impending dread, to the point that even his cheap ‘jump’ scares need reconciliation from his cast saying out-loud how someone, or something, ‘scared the shit out of them.’
Speaking of which, Gelb has assembled a talented array of actors, but their lack of commitment only makes the experience all the more depressing. I’m happy that they’ll most likely use whatever quick paychecks they’ve earned on this project to support their independent work in the future, however, that doesn’t nullify the flat performances that are on display. Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover and Olivia Wilde, in particular, have proven that they’re capable of giving tremendous performances, yet they seem as sad to be involved in the project as I was watching them in it. Not to mention that they inhabit one-dimensional archetypes that make the archeologist dumb-dumbs in Prometheus seem like Nobel Prize winners.
As a horror fanatic, films like The Lazarus Effectonly add to my deep-seated frustration for critics and audiences looking down at the genre for being a ‘lower’ form of artistry. Contemporary masterworks such as Jennifer Kent’s The Babadookand David Robert Mitchell’s It Followsprove that there are plenty of terrifying, brilliantly complex ideologies to cinematically expand upon; nevertheless, they’re still unfairly crippled by limited theatrical releases while turds like this expand nationwide. Here’s hoping that audiences will avoid this by-the-numbers dud and seek out motion pictures that actually deserve to unleash their wildest nightmares.