The Lazarus Effect

The inept piece of shit that will take your money
David Gelb
Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover
The Setup: 
Team of scientists bring dead girlfriend back to life.

I read one review that liked this film [that critic is now blackballed in my mind] and I like Olivia Wilde, and keep waiting for her to do something great, and I like horror movies, and… all of this conspired to get me to pay money to see this total and utter piece of shit. Its only redeeming quality is that it’s so silly that it can provide entertainment in spite of itself… while it’s on, at least. Now it’s the next day, and I have little but contempt for it.

This was directed by David Gelb, whose only feature prior to this was the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Perhaps he thought it would be an easy jump to toss off a horror film? Perhaps he thought it a simplistic genre? I have no idea, but his efforts are not helped by an absolute disaster of a screenplay.

We open the tension-free way as we watch video footage of an attempt to bring something back to life. It just jumps at an inopportune time—the first of many cheap jump scares to come. Then we have some okay credits as we have a creepy black pattern move within some organ flesh… seemingly the most expensive special effect in the film. Soon enough we join Mark Duplass [douchebag director in his own right] as Frank and Olivia Wilde as Zoe, engaged couple who are working together on a project to bring the dead back to life, so that doctors can have a little more time to save lives. They’ve been engaged three years, but in that time, Frank has gotten more and more involved in work, and has been forgetting Zoe. There is a fair amount of content around this theme throughout the film—enough to make you think that it might be a subtext—but actually no, it all comes to absolutely nothing, and if you pay attention to it… well, that’s just one of the ways this movie makes an ass out of you.

The group is Frank and Ava as the two adults, working with these college kids, the stoner and the black one, and now hiring Ava to film their every move for scientific history. Zoe has a bad dream, and clutches her small crucifix upon waking for strength—the first bit of a fair amount of crucifix/religion content that you also might think will emerge as a subtext… but again comes to nothing and makes an ass out of you for paying attention to it.

Soon enough they hit upon the breakthrough and bring the dog back to life. Then Frank and Zoe decide to take the dog home that night [these people are supposed to be scientists]. There’s a creepy scene where the dog comes into Zoe’s bed and stares at her as she sleeps. Gosh, just imagine how powerful that could have been if it were related to any CONTENT within the film. The next day, just as you’re wondering if they’re ever going to do any tests on the darn thing, they do… and discover that it is self-healing and that his brain activity is going cray-cray. In fact, he’s “creating new neural pathways at an unprecedented rate!” He could also turn violently aggressive at any moment! Cue rote suspense scene in which he goes violently aggressive… then is subdued, and the film proceeds as though nothing happened. Eventually the dog simply flat-out vanishes from the film.

Up until now it’s been as many pointless jump scares as you can fit, often with the film going silent and still for so long you’re only sitting there waiting for something to jump. Then, suddenly, funding for the project is pulled, because they saw what the group was doing on the security cameras. Then a bunch of goons come and steal all of the equipment and notes on behalf of a giant pharmaceutical company. So they only have one choice! They’ll sneak back into the lab and replicate the experiment on video, proving that the breakthrough is theirs! I though it a very contemporary [and contemporarily shallow] idea that it’s going to be a YouTube video that solves all their problems. It’s here, one-third in, that the film starts coming apart, before breaking down into absolute chaos in the final third.

So they break into the lab, and apparently the security cameras that functioned before, and got them caught, are no longer functioning. And all the equipment that the goons took? They’re still easily able to do their work fine without it. They merely monitor the security guard outside. They pull another dog out of the fridge, then—sudden, inexplicable electrocution! Yep, that one switch that was working fine til now—and will work fine again in just a second, without any repairs—suddenly electrocutes Zoe, killing her. They sit around mourning for a while—while you’re like, “Um, aren’t you guys worried about being discovered by security?”—then Frank decides to use the serum to bring Zoe back to life! And the others refuse… until they go along with it!

This requires Ava to pull the switch that just electrocuted Zoe, which she does [wearing a thin rubber glove] and she’s FINE! I’d think she’d at least raise a concern about that, but these kids today are just so ready to jump into anything. There is a moderately good moment as attention goes to avoiding the security guard, then they turn and find Zoe sitting up, under a sheet. She’s awake and kind of normal, kind of not.

Soon we will find that, to our shock, this movie has a lot in common with the recent Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson, including a repetition of that claptrap about using only 10% of our brains at a time. Zoe’s brain activity is now off the chart, which allows her to hear people’s thoughts, draw them into her dreams, and move objects at will… but mostly she decides to just switch the lights on and off. What this means is that, while we know Zoe is bad, she is also no specific threat, because she can kind of do anything and everything, while at the same time not really doing much of anything. It is from here on that the organization of this movie could best be likened to a random spatter.

So all this spooky stuff is going on—you won’t be able to miss the amount of variations on the dialogue “There is some weird shit happening!”—while, periodically, you say “Wait a minute—are they still in that lab?” Yes, they are. In fact, the entire movie is set there, even though when they broke in, they only had a few minutes before they’d be discovered. At a certain point, the security guard just goes home, leaving the entire top-secret, multi-million-dollar lab absolutely without security. At a certain point, they realize they’re being hacked [I guess?] and they have to leave immediately! Then… they don’t. Zoe crushes one guy [the lack of violence in this sequence soft for even a PG-13], and then basically turns the lights off and on in order to scare the remaining survivors, until the idiotic thing finally ends, abruptly, nothing really having been resolved.

So again, I was amused while it was going on—it’s so openly bad it’s kind of fun to laugh at it’s silliness. Like the switch that suddenly electrocutes, but that they aren’t afraid to use again right away. Or the number of times you realize they’re STILL in that lab! But that was last night, and today… I feel cheated. I’m all for low-budget horror, and I know you can make a damn scary PG-13 film, but what we have here… well, I HOPE it’s the result of total ineptitude, because if not, it’s the result of calculated contempt for its audience, and the belief that they just need to get us into the theater, then serve us whatever shit they feel like. The way the entire last half is such an unbaked slosh… come on guys, but SOME effort in. TRY to make it good. Try and fail, and we’ll be more forgiving. But this is all so lazy and bad—especially that godawful mess of a script—that it’s really making me wish harm on the filmmakers.

Still, Olivia Wilde is pretty good, doing what she can with what she’s given—which isn’t much. She’s a good evil villain, as she’s usually better than most of the things she’s been in, but this is so poorly written and directed… Oh Olivia, we wish better things for you. Anyway, if you’re a horror fan and you have at least an ounce of self-respect, don’t do this to yourself.

Should you watch it: 

No, you're better than that.


So it's like Frankenstein -- all those fears people used to have about Medicine, that we were pissing off God when we fought against the laws of nature to prolong life, and He would punish us for it -- only a 100 years too late, when this message is no longer relevant. Everything about the movie is past its expiration date.

It's like Frankenstein... IF the monster were psychic and had mental powers... that he barely does anything with.
Ye olde "Playing God" speech is solidly here, as required, however.

Did you happen to watch Danny Boyle's stage adaptation of Frankenstein? (While not a movie, it was broadcast to cinemas around the world.) Having only watched James Whale's films a long time ago, I was totally unprepared for how brilliant it will be when I watched it recently (twice!). Apparently quite a faithful adaptation; book is already waiting on my shelf to be read.

Since you've repeatedly commented on shittiness of most of Frankenstein and Dracula movies, I'm curious what would be your opinion on it.

Nope, didn't see it... I wonder where I can get it now? I'll look into it...

But definitely read the book... it has a very pervasive tone of decay and dread that is [apparently!] very hard to get across on the screen, and [IMHO] is much better than Dracula as a novel. For me, it was a revelation how MUCH better it was than most film adaptations...

Hi CdMScott -

"Unbaked slosh"! You've taken a grenade. A grenade with Duplass, which is like extra nails in a pipe bomb.

Wanted to make sure that "It Follows" is on your radar. Haven't been as enthusiastic about a horror movie since "The Descent". I don't want to color your reaction with specifics, so I'll stick to striking down a potential hurdle instead: As someone who shared your reservations about the thud of metaphor in "The Babadook", I can say "It Follows" manages its metaphor with a looser grip, which brought more ambiguity and unpredictability and a richer range of moment-to-moment responses.

- FF

I am POSSESSED to see It Follows!!! It's gotten INSANELY good reviews on Metacritic and they all make it sound really good! And it comes out Friday! Sounds like you've seen it and liked it... Anyway, VERY much on my radar, thanks!!!

Don't seek out the trailer for It Follows. I think that's good advice for any movie one already wants to see, but this movie in particular benefits from not having knowledge via memorable compositions of upcoming locations, story developments, character fates, etc. The more you know, the weaker the dread - and who wants that?

Listening to the awesome soundtrack at website of composer Disasterpiece. No spoilers in the song titles.

In fact, I watched it just this morning! Alas... but the darn thing doesn't open in Chicago til next week, and even then, only at this small "art" theater... what's up? [Same thing happened with Babadook].

Here's me, hoping that someone had actually tried to make a movie out of Frank Herbert's weirdo trilogy about emergent AI and interplanetary colonization.