When analyzing the current state of Hollywood, anyone who sees even a handful of films in a year would be able to identify the horror genre as the one whose quality has declined the most drastically. A genre once filled with terrifying delights such as “The Shining” and “Poltergeist” or B-movie campfests like “The Evil Dead” and “Friday the 13th” series has become tired and bland with a heavy reliance on useless jump scares. Rather than fit in on either side of the spectrum these recent releases such as Ouija, Annebelle, and a slew of others just sit in the middle, lifeless direction directing audiences from one tense less scene to another.
That’s not to say they don’t get it right every once and a while. Last year’s “The Babadook” (my third favorite film of the year) and 2013’s “The Conjuring” are both fantastic entries into the genre, utilizing set ups and thematic horror to perfection, and on the other side films like “The Cabin in the Woods” and the “Piranha” reboot offered fun camp wrapped in over the top performances and playful homage to the movies before them. As a giant horror fan of old, I relish in these cinematic experiences; the care put forward truly transpires and allows me to sit through the schlock the follows for the remainder of the year.
Such a problem is what plagues “The Lazarus Effect,” the new micro-budget, quick turn around horror film to be released in the early months of the year with a sole intention to make a profit. While nothing is inherently terrible about the movie in terms of plot or camera work, the film doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares throughout, and the acting pretty serviceable, nothing really resonates either; the film idles in a vacuum of blandness and mediocracy, which is easily the worst place for any horror film to sit, ever.
On paper “The Lazarus Effect” sounds like an interesting concept: a group of researchers led by Frank (Mark Duplass) and his finance Zoe (Olivia Wilde) attempt to figure out a way to bring the dead back to life using a serum named “Lazarus.” After an accident in the laboratory causes Zoe to die, the group decides to perform its first human trial and successfully brings her back from the dead. However, strange things begin to occur as Zoe begins to slip into a state of unquestionable evil.
To its credit, the film has some fantastic sequences and raises some interesting questions throughout that had the potential to raise it above its formulaic presentation. The concept of religion vs. science has been presented in films before, but here we see it from a completely new angle in terms of the theory of death; there’s a wonderful conversation that takes place midway through the film in which Frank talks about the “white light” people claim they see when they die just being our brain releasing an acid-like chemical into our consciousness, while Zoe believes this chemical is a bridge between our world and another, allowing our souls to pass on to whatever destination they have next.
It’s these little gems throughout, however, the ultimate frustrate me more, as it shows the potential for a good horror film ultimately being wrapped in a generic shell. The actors involved, while all incredibly talented in their other mediums, suffer from this plague as well, with each one reduced to a cliched archetype of the genre: Donald Glover plays the guy who’s in love with the girl who’s taken, Evan Peters is the textbook slacker nerd, and Sarah Bolger is their attempt at the Final Girl trope (although with this one they tried to take some liberties that ultimately became convoluted and idiotic).
“The Lazarus Effect” is ultimately a failure for the simple effect that it drowns in its mediocrity and squanders its potential it for a more mainstream appeal. With a few shining moments and interesting questions raised, this could have been one of the more pleasantly surprising horror films to come out recently in handled differently; instead we get something that’s not even in the “so bad it’s good” territory.
Review by Nicholas Franco