In a UC, Berkeley medical lab, a group of ambitious scientists thinks they may have, through a miraculous serum, invented the cure for death. Frank (Mark Duplass), the team leader, is accompanied by his wife Zoe (Olivia Wilde), and their two associates, chain-smoking Clay (Evan Peters), and Niko (Donald Glover), who is secretly in love with Zoe. The project, dubbed Lazarus – a nod to Saint Lazarus, who was resurrected to life by Jesus four days after his death – is controversial for obvious reasons, but the scientists have agreed to let one of the university’s film students, Eva (Sarah Bolger) film their experiments.
When their grant is compromised by a rival company who buys out their primary benefactor, the team is forced to take drastic measures by filming their experiment and proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are the serum’s creators. With a comprehensive knowledge of the property, they’re able to sneak into the laboratory undetected. But when a freak accident kills Zoe, Frank must use the serum to bring her back to life, regardless of what the consequences may be.
Directed by Jiro Dreams of Sushi helmer David Gelb, The Lazarus Effect is, on paper, a very strange career move for the director, who has worked almost exclusively on documentaries for the entirety of his career. But this Blumhouse-produced horror flick is much more substantial than one might thing…at first. In its opening forty minutes, The Lazarus Effect presents a number of compelling arguments about the debate between science and religion, as well as the nature of documentary filmmaking, before throwing that out the window at the halfway point in favor of cheap scares and a screeching halt of any character or theme-related development.
But back to that first half. Watching The Lazarus Effect, it becomes obvious that a filmmaker like David Gelb would want to tackle this project. For most of those opening 40 minutes, Gelb takes an opportunity, visually and through the dialogue, to comment on the importance of documentary filmmaking and how, even in death, the film will survive. Eva is crucial to the development of this film, and it makes sense that she ends up being the “last one standing,” but the horror aspects of The Lazarus Effect begin to feel like an arbitrary addition instead of functioning as a means to further develop these themes, like they should.
Alternately, the film struggles with the idea of science versus religion, and how these debates creep into domestic situations and ultimately have the power to tear couples apart. In these scenes, Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde give strong performances as a couple in distress. While Frank is too blinded by his own God complex to realize that he’s neglecting the person he loves, Zoe is trapped in a life that obligates her to atone for a sin she committed as a child. The two of them do what they do for completely different reasons, and the film is at its best when it lets this drama fester within the characters, whether it be spoken or silent.
However, The Lazarus Effect is ultimately too inconsequential to make much of an impact. It refuses to properly answer any of the questions it asks, deciding instead to try and distract its audiences with lame jump scares and a cacophonous sound design that’s more irritating than it is scary. Evan Peters is uniformly charming as the group’s misfit genius, while Donald Glover is enjoyably low-key but feels like the group’s intellectual weak link based on the sole fact that he’s not given anything to do except pine for Zoe in a subplot that’s undercooked and ultimately unresolved. By the end, The Lazarus Effect’s unsurprising twist ending isn’t satisfactory, and serves as a lame reminder that Gelb’s feature narrative debut could have, and really should have, been so much more.Continue Reading Issue #39
February 27, 2015
1 hr. 23 min.
Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, Ray Wise