Review: ‘The Lazarus Effect’ (one actress’s valiant attempt to save a thriller)

Flatliners plus (choose ONE) A: Hollow Man, B: Lawnmower Man, C: Lucy.

After a scientist named Zoe (Olivia Wilde) theorizes a serum to regenerate disconnected brain tissue when stimulated electrically, her fiance Frank (Mark Duplass) puts their marriage on hold to secure a grant and complete the project with her. Three years later, a breakthrough restores a canine to life…but (of course) something isn’t quite right with it. The research team is forced to recreate the experiment when a loophole allows their research to be stolen away, but a lab accident pushes them to attempt a human trial; cue the special effects, horror makeup, and existential mumbo-jumbo.

Taking a cue from the “horror in a box” formula (lock your characters in, shake the box, see what falls out), The Lazarus Effect does a fair job of setup – pretty much everything we know from the trailer. At a glance, the story promises tying physics to metaphysics in a way that could might have been Event Horizon cool…until they do nothing with it. The story owes its existence to pretty much any story where science induces instant brain evolution to push a person off the rails, but with too many one-note characters and a severe lack of any explanation, every drop of potential is pissed away. Instead, Ms. Wilde inexplicably terrorizes the team until the film mercifully ends, only then hinting on something that might have made sense if there had been anything prior to support it.

Olivia Wilde was every bit amazing playing the risen patient, effortlessly transitioning from scientist to victim and target to predator. The problem is in the entire third act as written (or at least what made the final cut); while an interesting ending is almost the result, the mandatory cat and mouse jump-scare-o-rama never embraces it, making it feel tacked on and unearned. Even if filmmakers had three or four endings in mind, choosing this one would have worked far better if they had built more toward it. Mark Duplass’s Frank is all over the place, not to mention goes out like a chump. Evan Peters could have phoned in his lines being given so little to do, and hardly anyone else is worth mentioning except for a too-brief cameo by Ray Wise.

Remember “The Shop” from all those Stephen King books, the shadowy company that creates Firestarters and makes Tommyknockers disappear? There are constant nods to a similar organization not only watching over this disaster in the making but actually pulling a few strings, but it feels more like setup for a sequel that this film never earns. Let’s be honest: Ms. Wilde could hold our attention needlepointing the Periodic Table, but having our dream fulfilled to see her go all Carrie couldn’t breathe life into this misfire.

(a one and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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