A team of ambitious medical professionals have found a way to bring dead patients back to life using a serum code-named Lazarus (a reference to Saint Lazarus of the Four Days). After a successful test is done on a dog, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), one of the lead researchers, dies in a lab accident via electrocution. In desperation, the rest of the team uses Lazarus to bring her back to life and they're successful. When she begins to display unusual abilities, the team realizes that their attempt to resurrect the dead may have opened the door to unfathomable evil.
The Lazarus Effect is yet another micro-budget, "high-concept" horror film from Blumhouse Productions. For those who don't know, Blumhouse is a production company founded and run by film producer Jason Blum. Blumhouse is responsible for producing films such as Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, Ouija, Whiplash, Oculus, and The Lords of Salem among others. Despite its talented cast, this is a film I was not looking forward to, because it looked so boring, unoriginal, and derivative, and not to mention, one of the two screenwriters wrote Shutter, one of the worst remakes of all time. Well, on Friday, February 27th, I saw this in the theater along with Focus (the considerably better film), and what a shock, I didn't care for it. If you throw Frankenstein, Flatliners, Pet Sematary, Event Horizon, Lucy, Cujo, Carrie, X-Men: The Last Stand, Wes Craven's Deadly Friend, and Re-Animator in a blender and mix them all together, this film is what you get.
Let me get the few good things out of the way first. As far as cinematography is concerned, The Lazarus Effect is an okay-looking film. Michael Fimognari (Oculus) impresses with his eerie lighting and he gives the film a slick, appropriately gloomy look. Also, the performances were decent. Olivia Wilde (TRON: Legacy, Cowboys & Aliens), Mark Duplass (The League, Safety Not Guaranteed), Donald Glover (Community, Ultimate Spider-Man), Evan Peters (Kick-Ass, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Sarah Bolger (The Spiderwick Chronicles) all try their very best despite working off of a script that clearly doesn't appreciate their talents.
Okay, now let's focus on the many terrible things. This is one of the most unoriginal and derivative films I have ever seen. A horror film about bringing the dead back to life? Gee, I never saw that a million times before. The idea itself actually isn't that bad, and if the filmmakers tried new and creative things with this idea (and if executed properly), it actually could have been pretty awesome. But the terribly-written, nonsensical script, penned by Luke Dawson (the hack who wrote Shutter) and Jeremy Slater (who also wrote this year's upcoming Fantastic Four reboot), is riddled with trite plot points and cliches, and some truly awful and inane dialogue, as well as the classic asinine sequel-bait ending.
The characters? What characters? These are more like cardboard cutouts instead of actual characters, and I've got to say, for a team of scientists, they sure do make some idiotic decisions. No joke, these are some of the dumbest movie scientists since Spider-Man 3 (and that's a much better film than this). There's a subplot with Donald Glover's character Niko having a crush on Olivia Wilde's character Zoe that goes absolutely nowhere, and really, Niko only exists to be killed off later on in the film (his death was in the trailer, for crying out loud).
The production values are horrendous. I know the films Jason Blum produced are low-budget, but they never looked fake and cheap like this one did. The sets are generic (production designer Melanie Paizis-Jones' work here is underwhelming), the visuals and effects are lame, and the stock audio cues make the movie feel more low-quality and shoddy than it actually is. Also, because of the film's PG-13 rating, there's not a lot of blood or gore, which is a shame because we could've gotten some truly inventive and amazing death scenes, but no, the death scenes we do get fail to impress.
Now, onto my biggest problem: It's not scary in the slightest. Not a single thing in this film was frightening or creepy. There's no atmosphere at all. Director David Gelb clearly has no idea how to build up tension and suspense, and the horrible script doesn't allow him to conjure up possibly frightening visuals and effective moments. It's just a whole bunch of gobbledygook that I've seen before in other, much better horror movies, all meshed together with no cohesion at all. Jerky, uneven editing by Michael N. Knue (Dead Silence, Death Sentence) is also to blame for the film's lack of genuine scares. This movie reeks of post-production editing room chop job, and the film is an hour and twenty-three minutes long yet it feels about forty-five minutes longer.
The Lazarus Effect is a terrible, predictable, nonsensical horror film that's overly reliant on false horror, jump scares, and trite cliches, and borrows from other horror films that are much better than this. Bad writing, bad editing, and bad direction consume almost every frame of this movie. It's well-shot, and the acting is serviceable, but the script is poorly written (understatement of the day right there) and the writers really have no idea what makes truly good horror work. This movie is tired, derivative, and boring as sin. It's a mess. Avoid this film if you can. Jason Blum, please pick better horror films to produce. It would do your career and moviegoers everywhere a great service.