‘The Lazarus Effect’ movie review: Olivia Wilde resurrects the dead in horror film

Flatliners meets Re-Animator in The Lazarus Effect, a dull, plodding, but mercifully short (clocking in at under 80 minutes, minus credits) horror film from Blumhouse, the studio behind the Paranormal Activity franchise, Ouija, Dark Skies, and similar fare. 

There’s one thing a film like this needs to provide to be successful: scares. We can forgive poor acting, low production values, and other flaws as long as a movie sends shivers down our spines. 

But outside of a vaguely creepy dream sequence – which loses all its intrigue when it’s explained in excruciating detail by the end of the film – you won’t find anything remotely scary in The Lazarus Effect; even the stingers – those moments when a cat leaps in front of the camera and the soundtrack yells “Boo!” – seem to have been toned down for mass consumption. 

The film has precisely one thing going for it: the cast. After endless genre films that either feature non-actors in found footage material or teens cast for looks rather than acting ability, it’s a breath of fresh air to see adult, talented, likable actors in a film like this, even if the film does them no favors.

Mark Duplass (The League) and Olivia Wilde (House) star as Frank and Zoe, a husband-and-wife team of university scientists working on a serum that would assist in life-saving procedures by extending the amount a doctor has to work on a living patient. They test their serum by attempting to resurrect dead animals. Of course they do. 

Now, there’s all the hoity-toity talk about science and medicine, but we all know this serum has but one purpose, and that’s to bring dead things back to life. These characters are modern-day Dr. Frankensteins and by the end they’ll be taught that you shouldn’t play with life and death.

Assisting Frank and Zoe in the lab are technicians Clay (Evan Peters, American Horror Story) and Niko (Donald Glover, Community), and along for the ride is student journalist Eva (Sarah Bolger), recording the trials. The five principles here are all likable, but the script (by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater) doesn’t give them anything to work with.

After the big evil corporation steals all of their work, our protagonists are left with a single bag of life serum and the urge to do one last experiment to, uh, prove that they can do it. Again. What are the odds that somebody dies, and is then brought back to life? And that the surviving cast is murdered one-by-one?

The Lazarus Effect is slickly-produced on a miniscule $3 million budget – that’s less than each of the last three Paranormal Activity movies cost to make (!) – but the result is sterile: the film looks like it could be any TV drama, there’s simply no feel for the material. The film was inexplicably directed by David Gelb, who previously made the (excellent) award-winning documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi

By the end, The Lazarus Effect did nothing to offend me, nor did it offer up anything of interest. You could do (much) worse in this genre, but you probably won’t want to part with hard-earned cash on such mediocrity.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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