There are lots of movies that deal with the concept of what happens to us when we die. In THE LAZARUS EFFECT, a group of scientists seek the answer when they develop a serum that can bring animals back from the dead. But one night they are forced to use the serum on Doctor Zoe McConnell, played by Olivia Wilde, when a laboratory accident claims her life. At first, it seems like a miracle that they were able to save her life, but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that something is very wrong with Zoe, and that maybe there are some things science was never meant to tamper with.
Though the concept is nothing new, the premise of this film held a lot of potential to be a great horror movie, reminiscent of films like PET SEMATARY or the cult-classic THE RE-ANIMATOR. Sadly, rather than really taking a profound analytical look at the questions about life and death that the film claims to be presenting, or attempting a fresh take on the “came back wrong” trope, THE LAZARUS EFFECT is one of those horror movies that relies too heavily on flickering lights and jump scares to be anything memorable.
Though this is a shame, this isn’t to say that the film is without its merits. The cast does a fantastic job being likable and believable, even though we aren’t given much information about their characters. Olivia Wilde does an excellent job playing an empathetic character going through a terrible transformation. Donald Glover and Evan Peters also add a much needed dose of fun and comic relief to the mix. In addition to the performances, the film actually has some really good cinematography, allowing the shot composition and shadows to build an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. When the film stops bombarding the audience with jump scares, and instead allows these sequences to build suspense, it’s actually really effective in evoking a sense of fear and dread.
While the film excels in casting and cinematography, sadly it is the story that holds it back. Apart from Zoe’s backstory and a few hints at past character relationships, we really aren’t given much information about any of our characters, meaning that when things start to go wrong, the film has to rely solely on the cast’s likability to get us to empathize with their plight, rather than the likability of the characters themselves. The film itself is fairly short, running only 83 minutes, and the majority of the plot takes place the same night as Zoe’s accident. The result is that her transformation and descent into villainy feel incredibly rushed. There are also several plot threads that felt really underdeveloped, leaving the audience wondering if we wouldn’t have gotten a better movie if one of those threads had been explored instead.
At the end of the day, THE LAZARUS EFFECT’S biggest sin is that it simply doesn’t leave much of an impression. Several of the scares actually came across as unintentionally funny, but not in a way that could turn the film into a cult classic. It’s not moving enough to really feel the tragedy the characters are experiencing, it’s not scary enough to keep its viewers up at night when they get home from the theater, and it’s just not funny enough to be considered “so bad it’s good”. If you’re a fan of Olivia Wilde or Donald Glover, this won’t be a bad film to catch on Netflix, but there’s no urgency to see it in the theater.
~ Megan Salinas
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