A group of medical researchers discover a way to bring the dead back to life.
Bringing people back from the dead never quite works out the way you’d like it to. Ask Victor Frankenstein how it went? Or Mr. and Mrs. White from WW Jacobs’ classic supernatural short story The Monkey’s Paw, or Louis Creed in Pet Cemetery. At least the actual Lazarus from The Bible came out OK (but he was resurrected by Jesus, I guess, and he seemed to know what he was doing). You’d think some people would learn that raising the dead is problematic? Just like Homer Simpson, they seem to learn nothing.
Flatliners is still entertaining after all this time, showed us a group of medical students playing with resurrection (“Today is a good day to die”), and that also didn’t quite go the way they wanted. Now The Lazarus Effect has medical researchers trying to resurrect the dead (not the kind of thing you usually get in any national health service).
The Lazarus Effect is directed by David Gelb (who directed the outstanding 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and written by Luke Dawson (Shutter) and Jeremy Slater (who wrote the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, uh oh). A group of medical researchers (led by Frank and Zoe – played by Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde) work on their theories of bringing the dead back to life, starting with a dead dog called Rocky. As to how they get away with such unethical work is anybody’s guess, but they succeed, much to their understandable delight.
The ethical questions begin early. What if they’ve brought the dog back from dog Heaven? It’s questionable work to say the least, especially when Rocky starts acting weird (didn’t we see this in “Pet Cemetery”?) Characters discuss is there a Heaven or just a chemical thing (said in a complicated, impressive kind of med speak which could be accurate or just BS, who knows?) and even throw in the “It’s alive!” line (as a joke), just to grab from Frankenstein, but why not The Lazarus Effect seems to steal from everything else that was better. Yes, there is “something seriously wrong with that animal, like it was possessed or something” – do people get paid to write this dialogue? Even Cujo was scarier and that really is a concern.
The wannabe creepy, suspenseful music sounds like it’s written to order from the “Generic Book of Horror Music: Volume 15”, trying to cover up the fact that what we’re watching just isn’t very interesting. We get the fact that the experiment wasn’t sanctioned, as the researchers are shut down by a big pharmaceutical company (that we never see again) who take all of the research. The researchers decide to replicate the experiment, thus veering into the kind of plot that the weakest episodes of The X-Files
would have tried to avoid. During the experiment, Zoe is accidentally electrocuted and dies. Guess what happens next? Indeed. Good guess. “Did I just die?” Yes, you did. That would have been a lucky escape for any actor if they hadn’t come back, but back she comes and she comes back wrong. Of course, because they never come back right, do they? No.
No character has any kind of backstory, no seeming motivation in personal terms as to why they ever really got into this kind of research or activity. That would mean putting an effort into the script, rather than simply rehashing old ideas. There are even scenes stolen straight out of Flatliners (note to self: must stop mentioning Flatliners, however hard it’s proving). Why exactly do they want to bring the dead back to life? The playing God angle we’ve seen over and over and there’s nothing new to see here.
Then we descend into a series of unending tropes from anything the writers could think of: possession, telekinesis, flickering lightbulbs in dark rooms, mirrors that shatter for no seeming reason, slow camera tracking forward towards characters with their backs to us (ooh, scary, not), dead children coming back, hellish images cut in to make it seem like this is a cool horror; Zoe: “I think something’s wrong” before vomiting milky white whatever. Whatever. Bad things happen to the medical researchers. Oh, and somebody’s been watching them for months. Sure, why not? “Where’s the dog?” Yes, where is the dog, he was the best thing in it? You’d care about these characters if you had any sense of empathy with them, but they’re one dimensional in a one dimensional, utterly generic script full of rip off ideas and rip off shots. What happens next in the story? Guess? You’re probably right.
Why David Gelb, a respected and talented documentary maker, would choose this as his first fiction feature is puzzling (for money?) and a serious misstep in an otherwise forward moving career (although The Lazarus Effect made a sizeable profit for its $3m+ production budget at the theatres). He’s now gone back to documentary, which seems a wise move after this below average, generic fare. Watch Flatliners (damn, mentioned it again) instead, or Re-Animator or better still James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, or read Pet Cemetery or The Monkey’s Paw.
The Lazarus Effect is poor, lazy, generic and uninspired. It isn’t horrific and it’s never scary, unless you’re a ten year old who’s never watched anything scary. This is one film that was dead to begin with and should have stayed dead at script stage in the hope that nobody would try and bring it back to life. Expect another attempt at the same storyline coming out of Hollyweird even as we speak, with any aspect of original thought again stripped from it. Whatever.