Film Review: The Lazarus Effect


Directed by

  • David Gelb


  • Olivia Wilde
  • Mark Duplass
  • Evan Peters
  • Donald Glover

Release Year

  • 2015


  • PG-13

And Jesus shrugged — John 11:35

Maybe you noticed those silly subliminal flashes of “John 11” during the spoiler-happy trailer for The Lazarus Effect? It’s a strange way to manufacture menace. Now I’m no Bible scholar, but if memory serves correctly, Jesus cries when Mr. Lazarus croaks, uses his Jesus powers to raise him from the dead, and everything is hunky dory. Did I miss the chapter where the resurrected Lazarus goes around crushing heads? Did the trailer for Anaconda tease us with flashes of “Genesis 3:1?”

I ask this because The Lazarus Effect tosses out some heady questions as it journeys from Flatliners to flatlining, my favorite being “If we bring a dog back from the dead, are we ripping him out of doggie heaven?” And for a while, it seems like it’s morphing into an interesting hybrid of Lucy and Carrie. But when it goes in for the kills and buries its resurrected head in a steaming quicksand of religious mumbo-jumbo, it leaves you feeling like you were just about to chomp into a juicy burger and the patty fell out. You’re right to expect more from this solid cast and Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb. I’ll give it this. It’s better than most PG-13 horror joints, it’s mercifully short, and a Vaper (is that the word for those people?) gets what he deserves.

Pretty simple story. A likeable gang of medical researchers, led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his wife Zoe (Olivia Wilde), have spent years devising a super resurrection serum that looks like skim milk. They’re not necessarily trying to raise the dead, just make ‘em less dead so that doctors have more time to cure their ailments, so they’re not totally playing God. After failing with a pig in the opening, they have their first successfully resurrection with Rocky the Dog. But as soon as lab goof Clay (Evan Peters) remarks that the dog might go Cujo, the dog indeed goes a bit Cujo, but only gets to kill a bag of Lays potato chips left over from the Community study group. When their project gets shut down by corporate cronies (led by an underused Ray Wise), the gang sneaks into their old lab to replicate the experiment on another pooch. But when Zoe pulls the Frankenstein electric switch, she gets fried on the spot. And before you can say Fred Gwynne, Frank pumps the serum into his dead wife’s head, and she comes back … pretty, like Olivia Wilde. And now she’s using 100% of her brain, like Lucy. But she’s killing people and doing “crazy psychic shit” like Carrie and Lucy. Oh, and she’s also stuck in a personal hell that looks like the hallway in Barton Fink, and there’s a creepy child in that hall, because it’s a PG-13 thriller.

If you get your horror jollies from sneaky blind-side pan shots accompanied by 165dB blasts, you’ll love The Lazarus Effect. But these cheap, cheap, CHEAP moments actually punctured my eardrums like a syringe filled with concentrated Dinosaur Jr. and made me resent the movie, the sound mixer, and even the guy who installed the speakers at the theater, and ruined every moment (two) that was genuinely suspenseful.

But The Lazarus Effect did leave me with a lot of questions, like:

If you develop badass Lucy powers, why use your hands to crush heads and break necks? You should be Scanning.

Also, since you have those badass Lucy powers, why are you stalking your friends around a lab while randomly flipping light switches?

If your movie has a resurrected dog who can kill people with his mind and drag people to hell, why not make the movie about the dog? We deserve a good movie about a telekinetic dog (Watchers doesn’t count).

If a sinful person can come back from the dead wielding the powers of hell, wouldn’t a saintly person wield heavenly powers upon resurrection? Why can’t a magic zombie dish out hugs and full-body orgasms instead of homicide? That would certainly be more of a Lazarus effect.

With a cast like Duplass, Wilde, Peters, and Glover, all with great comic chops, why aren’t there any laughs?

And finally, can a movie ever pose a battle of science vs. religion and let science win? Are there still people playing God that need these warnings, and why don’t they invite me to their parties?