“The Lazarus Effect,” a psychological horror film from the directors of “Insidious” and “Paranormal Activity,” came out this February and just reached DVD this summer. The film documents four scientists and their videographer as they delve into the gray areas of neurological research. Their goal is to create a serum that will prolong the time before one’s organs begin to fail and allow more time for resuscitation, but they find through animal testing that they have created a serum that can revive the dead. Their lab dog, however, is not himself upon revival. While they’ve resuscitated a lifeless body, they have not brought back true life.
From the outset, “The Lazarus Effect” appears to be nicely produced. With such success from the directors’ previous films, I expected “The Lazarus Effect” to be a great horror film with very few plot holes. The movie boasts a solid cast, with lead actress Olivia Wilde, lead actor Mark Duplass, and, to my surprise, comedian and rapper Donald Glover. The dialogue and the high quality cinematography ropes you into the plot and from the moment the team injects their serum into a deceased dog and resuscitates him on the laboratory table, “The Lazarus Effect” promises an inevitably grim and unstoppable fate. We learn much about the scientists’ neurological research and goals, as well as an appropriate sprinkling of personal life—enough to gain the viewer’s sympathy but not enough to drown out the main plot. The film asks the hard-cutting questions: How do we experience death, and where do we go when we die? This crew of five have dragged themselves into the role of God and now have to make all the tough decisions. Before enough research on their serum’s effects are collected, a laboratory accident causes Wilde’s death, and the team has to make the premature decision to use their serum on a person.
Despite the good start, an avid horror movie enthusiast should not be misled. The plot quickly spirals into chaos. The instant the study becomes muddled with ethical and scientific concerns, the team of scientists loses their well-crafted dialogue and the controlled manner you come to expect from professional researchers. Amid the terror of an experiment gone wrong, the team somehow manages to lose their test dog, the focal point of their study and the evidence that will make their years of research worthwhile. Even if you can forgive this lapse in judgment and attribute the loss of their zombie dog to their insurmountable fear, you will be sorely disappointed to find that nearly all the “scare-factors” are equally inexplicable. Who turned the lights out? Where is the hospital’s security guard who was supposedly doing rounds? “The Lazarus Effect” uses all the cheap scares and tricks of a low-budget and low-quality horror movie to keep the viewer interested and distracted from the convoluted narrative.
For the viewer looking for a lights-flickering, flames-bursting, edge-of-your-seat film, this is your scary movie of the summer. However, the viewer hoping for a psychological thriller that brings as many questions as it does answers, “The Lazarus Effect” will be horribly disappointing.