For starters, the story is filled with every horror movie cliché imaginable, allowing the audience to be ten steps ahead for the entire film. Okay, okay, I get it…this is a horror movie–lighten up already, right? But what is the point of a horror movie if not to scare the bejeezus out of you and “Lazarus” falls flat in that respect. You can view a movie for what it is, but still expect (or want) it to do what it’s supposed to do well.
“The Lazarus Effect” follows a group of researchers led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée (Olivia Wilde), who are working on a serum to bring the dead back to life. They initially succeed by resurrecting a dog from the dead. Given a little time, however, the dog starts to engage in unusual behavior.
Once the Christian university where the team is conducting its research finds out about the experiment – and of course it’s a Christian university because that’s where most fringe science takes place – they immediately shut down the project and through a legal technicality all assets of the serum become ownership of a pharmaceutical company.
Not willing to lie down, the group sneaks back into the lab and performs one more experiment, where…you guessed it, everything goes wrong. What transpires post-experiment feels more like a bunch of teenagers running around scared in a haunted house versus the blood-curdling nightmare it’s supposed to be.
The very talented cast in this haunted house is mostly wasted. Duplass, an icon of indie film and television, doesn’t seem to have the chops (or maybe it’s the desire he lacks) to carry the dramatic lead. Evan Peters, who has shown amazing range in FX’s “American Horror Story,” plays a forgettable role as a goof-off stoner who just happens to be a brilliant doctor. The only bright spot is Wilde–she is believable as can be, given the constraints of this ridiculous story.
And given the nature of the story, the screenwriters could have played into the absurdity with comedic and horrifying effect. Instead, it’s written and filmed like a movie to be taken seriously. And under the confines of that premise “Lazarus” fails.
What could have been a sharp, terrifying tale felt more like the kids are putting on a school play. And being such a fan of almost everyone involved with this film I cannot help but feel a little let down. Which leaves me once again with one question: What went wrong?
DIRECTOR: David Gelb SCREENWRITERS: Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater CAST: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Evan Peters