The Lazarus Effect
Review by Daniel Rester
The Lazarus Effect is a pretty good horror film, until it isn’t. Written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater and directed by David Gelb, Effect has an interesting setup and some chilling snappiness provided by the filmmaking team. It’s also that rare modern horror film that has fairly strong acting in it. Unfortunately that’s not enough to save it from its absurd second half.
Effect revolves around married-couple scientists Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde); their team includes token black guy Niko (Donald Glover), comic relief Clay (Evan Peters), and video camera operator Eva (Sarah Bolger). Zoe and Frank are testing a serum called “Lazarus,” which could prove to help keep patients alive longer during emergencies. During tests on animals, the scientists realize they have found a way to bring the dead back to life.
After the breakthrough experiment goes wrong, Zoe is left dead. Frank and his reluctant team decide to use “Lazarus” to bring her back to life. To no audience member’s surprise, Frank’s choice ends up being a very bad idea.
The first 30-40 minutes of Effect are, well, effective. We quickly get to know the team of scientists and their plan. The buildup to the “shit goes down” moment provides a few intriguing ideas – including one about DMT versus the soul – and some quietly hair-raising scenes. Gelb and his creative team use wide still shots and slow-moving pans, tilts, and tracking shots to their advantage more in the first half. This part of the movie takes a less-is-more route and had me genuinely invested.
When bad things start happening, though, Effect begins to derail as it falls back on jump scares and other horror clichés. I will admit that some of the use of lighting and camera movements in the second half do provide for some scary moments, but there are an equal amount of scenes that are predictable and laughably bad; one particular scene involving a character winking is particularly (and hilariously) terrible.
Duplass, Wilde, and the rest of the talented cast do what they can with the material. When Gelb sticks with them and the eerie atmosphere, the film succeeds. But when characters get separated and start making stupid decisions, and the music builds before going quiet for “big scares,” Effect gets both silly and dull. The denouement becomes wildly ridiculous as well — to the point where it almost felt like a horror parody to me at times.
Effect is not an atrocious modern horror attempt, but it’s not very memorable either. The smart setup, solid acting, and a few creepy scenes hold it together and make it watchable. Horror junkies might want to catch it in theaters, but I think others can wait till cable.
My Score: 2 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B-).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of horror violence, terror and some sexual references).
Runtime: 1 hour and 23 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: February 27th, 2015.