One of the greatest mysteries of life is what happens to you when you die. In the latest frightfest to hit theater screens, The Lazarus Effect, discovering what lies in the great beyond may be better left alone. From Blumhouse Productions, the studio that specializes in low-budget, yet highly successful horror franchises like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and The Purge, this one stars Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), Mark Duplass (The League), Donald Glover (Community), Evan Peters (American Horror Story) and Sarah Bolger (Once Upon a Time). Also appearing briefly as a corporate bigwig is genre vet, Ray Wise, (Twin Peaks, Reaper.)
A group of scientists, led by couple, Zoe (Wilde) and Frank (Duplass), have developed a serum and method that they hope will give doctors the ability to extend a patient’s life, thus giving them a second chance. Having held off on their own wedding for several years as their research has gotten more involved, the two have conflicting views on life after death. Frank takes a purely scientific approach, believing the pineal gland floods the brain with chemicals that produce a sort of psychedelic rush, that people mistake for travelling to ‘the other side.’ Zoe, however, believes you cannot simply ignore all the accounts of afterlife experiences and that since a brain is made up of electrical impulses, and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred from one form to another, that energy released when one dies could very well be a signal for the soul moving on. Pretty heady stuff indeed. Zoe, meanwhile, is also suffering from intense nightmares of a traumatic childhood event, which are keeping her up at night.
The team finally achieves a major breakthrough when they revive a deceased dog, succeeding beyond their expectations, when the canine is healed even better than before. While the dog appears somewhat listless, and has little interest in food, understandable considering what it just went through, something else appears to be off. Unfortunately, when higher-ups discover the extent of these experiments, they pull the plug. Frank, though, is unwilling to hand over what may be the scientific discovery of the century, and he convinces everyone to recreate the trial on another dog, while videotaping the entire procedure for proof of their success. But a terrible accident results in Zoe’s electrocution and death. Frank, failing to revive her, decides to bring her back using the serum, against the rest of the group’s objections that this time he’s going too far. When Zoe comes back, where she’s been, and why, may prove more terrifying then any of them could imagine.
It is here that the film shifts from a sort of Flatliners approach to that of Frankenstein, Re-Animator or Pet Sematary, and ultimately climaxing in Carrie/The Fury mode. There’s nothing too original here, but some of the questions the film examines are certainly thought provoking. As anyone know from The Bible, Lazarus was brought back to life by Jesus several days after his death, as told in the Gospel of John. Though the science of how long brain cells can be inactive yet still able to be stimulated back to life is glossed over, the ethical questions of should one ‘play God’ and whether an intelligent being would even want to be brought back is discussed. It would have been nice if the film explored such ideas further, rather than leaving it up to the audience. Though the movie clearly has a low budget, as it takes place almost entirely within the lab, it looks great, and has some cool effects, though nothing very bloody or gory, reflecting its PG-13 rating. Like the recent Carrie re-make, it would be quite welcome to see a newer R-rated movie where a female protagonist with supernatural abilities is really allowed to let loose. The performances are all terrific, especially Wilde, who’s given the task of a major character transformation, from one of sweetness and intelligence to that of destructiveness and evil.
So, while The Lazarus Effect is clearly derivative of a number of other horror films before it, it provides its own take and does so in a compelling way in which it brings up the centuries-old questions by mankind concerning death. There are also a number of creepy moments that make the picture fun to watch as well. And, as the film moves briskly to its end, that will only leave you more time afterwards to ponder your own end and that ultimate great mystery of the universe.
— review by Brian de Castro