REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For Digital First Media
In the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox religious traditions, one of Jesus’ miraculous feats was resurrecting Lazarus after he had already been dead for four days. “The Lazarus Effect” is a low budget, horror film, involving a bunch of young medical researchers. They are surreptitiously mucking around with resurrection modalities.
Frank (Mark Duplass), is a medical school graduate. He has turned his attentions to applied research. Frank has assembled a scientific research team. It consists of his live-in girlfriend, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), Niko (Donald Glover), and Clay (Evan Peters). The quartet is joined by Eva (Sarah Bolger), a videographer, who abruptly begins to document their research, midway through the project.
At the outset of the film, the researchers are trying to resurrect a dead dog, Rocky. After receiving a large jolt of of electricity, the canine is restored to life. He comes back with a transmogrified personality. Once placid, Rocky now intermittently displays the menacing qualities of Cujo, the killer dog. In addition, Rocky seems to have acquired the power of telekinesis. Does it really make sense for Frank and Zoe to take Rocky home and make him their house pet? It is a portent of the series of inane decisions made by the film’s characters.
Most of the characters are thinly drawn. Frank is a pompous jerk. He invariably thinks that he is the smartest guy in the room, regardless of who else is in it. Niko seems serious and reasonably well-grounded. He may or may not have once been Zoe’s boyfriend. They recount a previous misunderstanding that Niko once had about a dental dams. It suggests that Niko and Zoe were previously paramours. Then, there’s Clay, who is younger than the other researchers. He insists on smoking in the lab, ignoring the institution’s proscription against it. Occasionally, Clay offers a valuable insight. However, they don’t compensate for what a total jerk he is. In lieu of any sort of distinguishing personal qualities, Eva’s character is provided with a camera.
Then, there’s Zoe. She’s the epicenter of several, different dramatic trajectories. Unfortunately, these plot threads don’t knit together synergistically. Zoe is tormented by a recurrent nightmare. In it, a young girl (Emily Kelavos) is holding a book of matches. People are engulfed in flames being burnt alive. They are screaming unsuccessfully to be rescued. Zoe cavils that she is living in hell for having committed one isolated mistake in the past. Does she mean this in some metaphorical sense or has she been literally relegated to purgatory?
After the research team restores Rocky the dog, will they be able to resist applying their techniques to humans? Does engaging in such unauthorized machinations sound like a prudent idea to you? Do you suppose that there might be dire consequences for waxing Messianic?
What is the dumbest line of dialogue that you have ever heard in a movie? Have you ever been assailed by anything more moronic than, “Dogs don’t have memories”? Really-how do they remember who their master is, or where their food bowl reposes, or how to do cute doggie tricks?
What’s great about the line is its context. It is uttered by Frank with exaggerated gravity. Bear in mind that he’s the head of the scientific research team and defined as the film’s brainiac. How did the character come up with such an absurd theory? Even if he harbored the belief when he was five-year old simpleton, by the time he graduated medical school, wouldn’t the notion have been beaten it out of him? How did Mark Duplass, a veteran of the mumblecore movement, get his lips around such verbiage?
In the New Testament, Lazarus was raised from the dead. However, “The Lazarus Effect” is a prime candidate for euthanasia.
* ½ PG-13 (for PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror and some sexual references) 83 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.