THE LAZARUS EFFECT
Jason Blum may well have struck it big with the Paranormal Activity series but as he has grown in popularity the canniness of what he is capable of doing is being stretched thinner. He has had a good run with the Paranormal Activity sequels, yet for every modestly effective horror film he was turning out a couple of years ago with the likes of Insidious (2010) and sequel or Oculus (2013), we are now getting an Ouija (2014) or a The Boy Next Door (2015) and, sadly to report, The Lazarus Effect. The film comes from David Gelb who has previously been a documentary-maker whose most well-known work was the festival hit Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011). The Lazarus Effect is Gelbs first venture into fictional subject matter.
The afterlife experiment is something that has been overused see recent efforts such as The Apparition (2012) and The Quiet Ones (2014) for two tired and unimaginative examples. The Lazarus Effect reminds of two films in particular Flatliners (1990) with its experiments in stopping peoples hearts and then reviving them from the dead only to find they have brought something back from the afterlife with them, and Pet Semetary (1989), which had a very similar plot arc about a process that first revives an animal and is then used on a human, which in both cases return not right (although the process in Pet Semetary was an Indian burial ground, while here everything is dressed up in pseudo-scientific jargon).
As the film opens, David Gelb depicts the experiment with a sense of verisimilitude and scientific believability, while the scenes wondering what has happened to the dog come with a foreboding. However, from about the point that Olivia Wilde is brought back from the dead, The Lazarus Effect slides into the dull and predictable. You start to sink into your seat from about the moment the film has people talking about Olivia Wilde using the untapped 90% of her brain the claim that the human brain only uses 10% of its capacity is a myth that has been widely dispelled by neurologists, even as it has been repeated by other films such as Limitless (2011) and Lucy (2014) in recent years. Seeing a widely debunked myth repeated here again is starting to feel tiresome and cliched moreover, you lose respect for filmmakers who have not even taken the time to properly do some basic fact checking when it comes to their script.
Almost the latter half of the film consists of Olivia Wilde lurking around the laboratory, reading minds, levitating things and then killing people. The rationale offered up for such seems as scanty and arbitrary as the end means whereby she is defeated. We are not even clearly sure what has happened to her the film gives no clear explanation as to why she has not returned right. Her continued appearance with black pools of eyes seems to suggest that she is possessed, although this is not born through in anything the script offers up. The film often seems on the verge of creating some modest suspense only for these to fall into tiresomely predictable punchlines and set-ups. In the end, the premise dissolves into no more than a series of novelty deaths backed up by a frustratingly vapid and unoriginal premise.
Blumhouse productions make a virtue of all being made on medium budgets (under $5 million). With The Lazarus Effect, David Gelb has notedly made a film that is constrained to essentially a single set. This has allowed the film to bring in a better cast than usual, including Mark Duplass better known as a director, writer and star of indie efforts like Baghead (2008), Cyrus (2010), Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011), as well writing/starring in Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) and the Found Footage horror Creep (2014) for Blumhouse. At the centre of the show is Olivia Wilde whom I have admired since she turned up as a regular on House M.D. (2004-12), although she has yet to find a cinematic vehicle that has allowed her to shine with the potential she clearly has. The Lazarus Effect is not something that does anything to change this and only shuffles her around doing little more than giving ambiguously malevolent sidelong glances and looking evil with black pools for eyes. There is also Evan Peters who has emerged as a promising name of recent in various seasons of American Horror Story (2011 ) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Here he shines with characteristically laidback wit but the film makes little use of him and he is killed off without getting to do much.
Jason Blum and his Blumhouse production company have produced a number of other genre films including:- Hamlet (2000), Paranormal Activity (2007) and sequels, Insidious (2010) and sequels, Tooth Fairy (2010), The Bay (2012), The Lords of Salem (2012), The River (tv series, 2012), Sinister (2012) and sequel, Dark Skies (2013), Oculus (2013), The Purge (2013) and sequels, the tv mini-series Ascension (2014), Creep (2014), Jessabelle (2014), Mercy (2014), Mockingbird (2014), Not Safe for Work (2014), Ouija (2014) and sequel, 13 Sins (2014), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), Unfriended/Cybernatural (2014), Area 51 (2015), The Boy Next Door (2015), Curve (2015), The Gallows (2015), The Gift (2015), Jem and the Holograms (2015), Martyrs (2015), Visions (2015), The Visit (2015), The Darkness (2016), Hush (2016), Incarnate (2016), The Veil (2016), Viral (2016), Amityville: The Awakening (2017), Get Out (2017), Happy Death Day (2017), The Keeping Hours (2017), Split (2017), Stephanie (2017) and Truth or Dare (2018).