Olivia Wilde gets lost in a clunky spook house of recycled sci-fi hokum
The Lazarus Effect
Starring Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass
Directed by David Gelb
From the opening shot, you know something bad’s going to happen.
As a group of hotshot young scientists, lead by Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass, attempt to resuscitate a dead pig—their latest chapter in a search for a breakthrough they hope will ultimately benefit coma patients—you can sense the dread, even if they don’t.
“You are playing God with a bunch of dead animals!” one of them later tells another.
Of course, that’s it! But they learn that lesson too late. Perhaps if they’d only looked a little closer at the title of their own movie, or watched any number of other films over the years, or even paid more attention to what they were doing. Lazarus, as many other folks seem to know, is a character in the New Testament who was reported to have died and been raised back to life by Jesus; his name has since become enshrined as secular shorthand for anything wrongly thought to be deceased.
The idea of “man playing God” is an ancient one, older even than the tale of Lazarus, as old as ancient mythology. But it really took pop-cultural root with the character of the Frankenstein monster, created by novelist Mary Shelley in the 1800s and later turned into an entertainment icon in movies, TV, cartoons and even breakfast cereal. The fingerprints of Frankenstein are all over just about any sci-fi or horror “reanimation” tale that’s ever followed it, including this one.
Here, Duplass’s character is named Frank, and it’s the beautiful Wilde who becomes the “monster” after an incident in the lab goes horribly awry.
The Lazarus Effect starts off with some smart, intense ideas, sharply batting around topics of science, faith, mortality and the financial realities that drive modern-day scientific research. But the dialogue soon enough veers into gobblygook and the plot disintegrates into a clunky haunted-house hodgepodge: flickering lights, fiery visions of clawing hands and a little girl in hell, and Zoe popping up from the shadows—or from underneath a sheet.
Zoe can read people’s thoughts, complete their sentences and move things with her mind. She has super-senses. “I think something’s wrong,” she tells Frank, in a moment of clarity…and terror. “I can see things; I can hear things.” Then she vomits up a torrent of white stuff. Turns out the lab accident has made her super-smart, utilizing all her brain instead of just part of it. And all that intelligence, for some unexplained reason, has made her angry…really, really angry.
Most viewers will be angry, too, at this mismanaged mess of a monster movie, which strands its two talented stars in a spook house of recycled sci-fi and horror-show hokum and loftier concepts lifted from other, far better films—like Carrie, The Shining, The Omen, The Exorcist…and, of course, Frankenstein. This sub-par scare-flick entry in the “back from the dead” genre starts smart but gets dumber as it goes, crash-lands on a downer note that I can’t imagine will please anyone, and ultimately fails to bring any encouraging signs of new life to a tale that’s nearly as old as life itself.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine