Friday, February 27, 2015

“The Lazarus Effect” – Oh, hell.

You know what movie is one of the most underrated horror films of all time? No, not Tammy; I’m talking about 1997’s Event Horizon. I distinctly remember Event Horizon as one of those films that fools you into thinking it’s something entirely different than what it really is. It seemed like it was going to be a straight science fiction drama; one where they are racing against time to rescue the crew of a dying space ship. Instead, it turns into a slasher flick and one of the creepiest at that (seriously, if you like movies that freak you out, Event Horizon is the movie for you). While sitting through The Lazarus Effect, I noticed that it was following the same formula as Event Horizon – the first half is straight science fiction; the second half is slasher-with-paranormal-activity-tries-to-kill-everyone. The difference between the two is that Event Horizon didn’t crap itself after the transition the way The Lazarus Effect did.

(SPOILER alert: The two movies share another major similarity and that would be a SPOILER, which I’ll get to later.)

I didn’t have high expectations for The Lazarus Effect, so I was actually quite pleased through the first half of the film. Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are researchers at a university developing a serum that restores brain activity to comatose patients. The movie begins with them having moved past that to restoring brain activity in deceased animals – effectively bringing them back to life. Frank explains that the goal is to allow doctors more time to save patients who have flat-lined. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Flatliners (1990) used the same concept (though Flatliners is barely a horror flick, despite what you might think). Frank and Zoe’s team is rounded out by Niko (Donald Glover), Clay (Evan Peters), and Eva (Sarah Bolger), and all of them are hoping this is their big ticket to scientific fame and fortune. When they successfully revive a dead dog, they believe they’ve finally made their breakthrough, but Clay is concerned about the readings they are getting from the dog.

This is the point of the movie in which you believe the meat of the plot will begin because you remember that the movie posters feature a demonic-looking Olivia Wilde. Up to this point, the movie was very deliberate with the science and premise, and it does a great job of tensing up the audience in anticipation of Zoe’s certain death. They even ratchet up the tension with a scene where the dog is standing over a sleeping Zoe on her bed. As much as I bash writers for shoddy work, it’s only fair that I congratulate them here – well done, writers (Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater). Also, did you guys really think you were done writing at that point?

Immediately following the dog-on-the-bed scene, the movie starts to wander off the rails. The next morning, Frank is called into the university president’s office and is told they violated the terms of their grant by experimenting on animals. He also finds out that a drug company purchased the company that gave them their grant and that the violation of the grant entitled the drug company to all of their research and discoveries. Frank returns to their lab to find the drug company confiscating nearly everything. In defiance, Frank convinces his team to duplicate the experiment so that they will still get credit for their work. The reason I’m telling you all this is because that whole sequence was completely unnecessary. The drug company never comes back and never figures into the plot. The whole sequence was written solely as the catalyst for the team attempting another experiment, which results in Zoe’s death. Why not just have them do something – oh, I don’t know, scientific – like, repeat the experiment to duplicate their results? You know, like every scientist ever who isn’t a fraud. If the movie was about defying corporations, I could at least understand, but this movie’s only concern is making sure Zoe murders (or tries to murder – I’m not that much of a SPOILER dick) her teammates. After this scene, the movie goes from just wandering off the rails to crashing into a homeless shelter, spilling acid on the survivors, and exploding, just for good measure.

After her revival, Zoe starts to experience odd side effects like telekinesis, mind reading, and black fingers. Clay continues to have “a bad feeling about this” and Niko explains to Eva that Zoe’s brain scans shows her using more than 10% of her brain. Oh, shit; did we just stray into the movie Lucy? Niko attempts to explain that the 10% thing is a myth followed by explaining the “real” brain usage totally wrong. Is it really too much to ask for a movie with a scientific basis to get that part right, especially after all of the hand-wringing over Lucy?

Since the movie has a total running time of 75 minutes, Zoe’s transformation into demon hell beast takes roughly eight seconds and any further exploration of Zoe is impaled on the writers’ pens. The rest of the movie is standard cabin-in-the-woods format and the explanation for her transformation is hell. Seriously – hell. When Zoe was dead, she was trapped in hell, which she describes as the worst thing you ever did played on a loop. No explanation as to why she became evil and murderous; just…hell. At least Event Horizon bothered to explain that the ship had gone to another dimension that was pure evil and that Sam Neill had been possessed by something from that dimension. Besides that, the ending to The Lazarus Effect so unsatisfying that you’ll want to impale yourself with the writers’ pens.

As low as my expectations were, the casting made me think it might be a decent movie. Olivia Wilde is well past the point of career where she needs to do slasher flicks, Evan Peters’s star is exploding with the success of American Horror Story and his great turn as Quicksilver in the latest X-Men movie, and the other three have found decent measures of success on television and movies. It just goes to show you that no cast can overcome crappy writing, especially one that, halfway through the film, forgot that it had created a demon dog. Oh, hwell.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and watch Event Horizon to get the taste out of your brain (by replacing it with another one).


  1. It’s one of those movies — there are so many — made by people under the impression that creating deafening crescendos on the soundtrack will cause audiences to jump.