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"THE LAZARUS EFFECT"
(2015) (Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A small team of medical researchers get more than they bargained for when they bring back one of their team members from the dead.
PLOT:
Frank (MARK DUPLASS) and Zoe (OLIVIA WILDE) are an engaged couple who are working together at a university in Berkley. With the help of Clay (EVAN PETERS) and Niko (DONALD GLOVER), they've created the Lazarus serum that they hope to use in allowing medical personnel more time to bring people back from death without any cognitive or other ill-effects. With college student Eva (SARAH BOLGER) getting video of their experiment, they manage to resurrect a dead dog. But some of the team members are concerned with the increased brain activity in the canine as well as his odd and sometimes aggressive behavior.

Unfortunately for them, a large pharmaceutical corporation has purchased the smaller one that had been funding them, and personnel arrive to claim all of the team's research as their own. Realizing they have limited time, the team sneaks back into their lab at night with hopes of replicating their resurrection experiment.

During that, however, Zoe ends up accidentally electrocuted. When normal efforts of resuscitating her fail, a desperate Frank injects her with the serum. It works and brings her back from the dead, but with increased brain activity likewise occurring within her, the team must contend with what they've accidentally unleashed.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Back when I was growing up, there was a particularly odd and -- to a young kid -- somewhat unsettling TV commercial that still rattles around in my head all these decades later. In it, everything seems nice and peaceful until an otherwise pleasant motherly character suddenly turns angry and maybe even vindictive when learning that some butter she just tasted was actually Chiffon margarine. She then stands and there's a clap of thunder as she states, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

Fictional characters in various forms of storytelling -- be that novels, TV shows or movies -- seemingly never got that message as they're always messing around with the natural order of things, including death. From Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" to "Flatliners," "Re-Animator" and other genre entries of that ilk, such characters have dabbled in examining death and even bringing people (or sewn-together versions thereof) back from the status of being dearly departed.

That trend continues in "The Lazarus Effect," a film presumably named after Lazarus of Bethany, brought back to life by Jesus in the Gospel of John after four days of being dead. Like that man, this film is going to need a miracle to show any sort of extended life at the box office. And that's because besides being derivative and treading on previously well-traveled cinematic paths, the flick simply isn't good, be that from a scientific, moral or just a way to raise goose bumps standpoint.

The premise is fairly simple. Mark Duplass ad Olivia Wilde play an engaged couple who are conducting university-based experiments on creating a serum that will allow medical personnel a bit more time in bringing patients and victims back from death, all without any adverse effects, such as that affecting cognition. With the help of their two assistants -- Evan Peters and Donald Glover -- they think they're on the verge of a breakthrough, something their college student assistant (Sarah Bolger) is hoping to capture on video.

Joining the ranks of their cinematic predecessors in ignoring the scientific realities of irreversible brain cell decay (and thus damage, at least if no hypothermia treatment is immediately used), they decide to bring a dead pooch back across the rainbow bridge and into their world. Despite the miracle -- including the dog's cataracts now mysteriously being missing and the canine's brain scans lit up like the Fourth of July -- the couple take the dog back home so that Wilde's character can get some sleep and thus potentially have another recurrence of a troubling nightmare stemming from a childhood trauma.

Hmmm, I wonder if that's somehow going to come into play soon thereafter? Working from a script by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, director David Gelb doesn't waste much time in trying to spook his audience, including -- as one character warns -- having the dog possibly go all Cujo on them. After their work is taken from them by big pharma in a plot development that doesn't do anything for the overall pic, the team sneaks back into their lab to recreate their experiment. In the process, Zoe is accidentally electrocuted to death. Gee, I wonder what desperate next step might occur?

Yes, she gets a dose of the titular substance and before you know it, she's back from the dead, albeit with the pesky side effect of having her eyes go all black. Oh, and telekinetic powers due to all of her brain neurons being active (apparently she saw "Lucy" with Scarlett Johansson and liked hearing Morgan Freeman's voice talk about using one-hundred percent of one's brain). And that's when the film completely derails and any potential viewer interest heads off into the white light that "Poltergeist's" Tangina Barrons warned everyone about.

Naturally, all that occurs is tied to the aforementioned nightmares, but that's handled poorly, as are the various attempts at unsettling, spooking or startling the viewer (most of the latter coming from the now obligatory plethora of jump scenes). The fact that we don't care and know next to nothing about any of the characters doesn't help, and any glimmer of earlier introduced philosophical matters is killed alongside all but one of the characters (this is a horror film, after all).

Once upon a time Hollywood knew how to make truly scary horror films. One can only hope that someone, someday, will figure out how to resurrect that form of cinematic storytelling. Right now, it's pretty much DOA, as is this offering. And that's without Mother Nature lifting a finger. I guess she got over that margarine issue. "The Lazarus Effect" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 25, 2015 / Posted January 27, 2015


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