Monday, March 23, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: The Lazarus Effect

The Lazarus Effect was written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, and directed by David Gelb.

Dawson wrote the screenplay to 2008's Shutter, while Slater wrote the upcoming horrible looking Fantastic 4 (or Fant 4 Stic, as the trailer suggests) reboot. Well, at least their work's consistent. Gelb previously directed a number of documentaries. Perhaps he should have stuck with that format.

Think Flatliners meets Event Horizon and you'll have a pretty good idea what this film is like. Scientists work on a project to bring the dead back to life, and after being forced to use it on one of their own, she comes back... changed.

The Lazarus Effect can't seem to settle on a tone or even a direction. The story meanders down multiple paths, most of which turn out to be dead ends, leaving us frustrated with abandoned concepts and unanswered questions.

The film raises issues about science vs. religion, death and the afterlife that are actually quite interesting, but then totally ignores them as devolves into a typical watered-down PG-13 slasher film (there's even a Final Girl!). If the writers and director had shown even slight interest in examining the topics they bring up, they might have actually had a decent movie on their hands.

The Lazarus Effect was actually filmed back in 2013, but wasn't released until February 2015. As regular readers of my blog know, this is never a good sign, and you should avoid such delayed movies at all costs.

Lastly, Donald Glover stars in the film as Niko. I sure hope he didn't leave Community just so he could make movies like this one.


The Plot:
Two university research scientists, Frank (played by Mark Duplass) and his fiancee Zoe (Olivia Wilde), are working on a serum to help coma victims. They're shocked when they discover the substance, codenamed Lazarus, can actually bring the recently dead back to life. Coma, resurrection, eh, it's all the same thing.

Plot point! Zoe has nightmares about an apartment fire she experienced as a child, in which she witnessed her neighbors as they burned alive. Remember that, as it becomes important later on.

Frank & Zoe, along with their assistants Clay (played by Evan Peters, of X-Men: Days Of Future Past fame), Niko (played by Donald Glover, whose presence in this film makes me wish I was watching Community instead) and videographer Eva, test the Lazarus serum on a euthanized dog named Rocky. The dog actually comes back to life, but there are unintended side effects. Its cataracts completely disappear, and its brain is furiously forming new and complex synapses.

When the university dean gets wind of their ethically dubious experiments, she shuts them down. Shortly afterward all their research is confiscated by a large, evil drug corporation. Frank and Zoe decide to sneak back into the lab and recreate the experiment to prove they came up with the Lazarus drug.

During the secret experiment, Zoe is electrocuted in the silliest way possible. A desperate Frank injects her with the Lazarus serum, and lo and behold she's resurrected. However all is not right with Zoe. She claims she visited Hell while she was dead, and begins developing telepathy and telekinesis, which one naturally does after coming back to life.

Zoe's condition gradually worsens as she becomes aggressive and murderous for no apparent reason. She begins picking off the cast one by one, even killing her fiance Frank. She saves Eva the Final Girl for last, somehow transporting her into a dream-like (I guess) version of her apartment fire nightmare. Told you that would be important later!

While there, Eva realizes that Zoe actually started the apartment fire when she was a child, which is presumably why she went to Hell. Eva manages to inject Zoe with a deadly chemical, but it turns out it was all in her mind, and Zoe kills her.

Zoe then injects the rest of the Lazarus serum into her head. She then injects Frank with her serum-infused blood, resurrecting him. We then see the rest of her victims laid out, implying she's creating an army of resurrectees for some reason.

But we never find out what happened to Rocky the dog. Maybe he'll be back in the sequel.

• If nothing else, the film clocks in at a brisk eighty three minutes, so it won't torture you for too awfully long.

• This film must set some kind of record for jump scares. Practically every scene features a character unexpectedly grabbing someone by the shoulder, or lunging in from behind, or even popping up wearing a pig mask (!). It's as if the director realized the story wasn't the least bit frightening, so he ramped up the quota of jump scares in a flailing effort to shock the audience somehow.

• You know, now that I think about it, people "die" on the operating table and are brought back to life all the time. So far I don't think any of them have developed psychic powers or brought pieces of Hell back with them.

• After Rocky the dog's brought back to life, he seems mopey and unresponsive. Zoe wonders if they did the right thing by bringing him back, asking "What if we ripped him out of doggy heaven? What if he didn't want to come back?"

Later Zoe claims she went to Hell after she died, and even though she was only gone a few minutes, it felt like years to her. She's also pissed that even though she's spent her adult life atoning for the mistake she made as a child (setting her apartment building on fire), she was still condemned to Hell.

Those are all interesting ideas, and I'd eagerly see a film about any one of them. Why bring up notions like this and then completely avoid them?

• The always great Ray Wise puts in half a day's work as Mr. Wallace, the head of the "evil" drug corporation that confiscates the heroes' research materials. He's in the movie for all of two minutes. If that. Pity they didn't utilize him more.

• During their second dog-resurrecting experiment, Zoe pulls the switch on the circuit box and is accidentally electrocuted, all because she forgot to take off her engagement ring. Jesus Christ! Is that a real thing? Can you really be electrocuted just by pulling a switch on a such a power box? Maybe they ought to think about some insulation.

• When Zoe's killed, Frank valiantly tries to revive her with standard methods, by injecting adrenalin into her heart. Gasp! For one brief shining moment, I actually thought we were finally going to see the proper, realistic use of a defibrillator in a movie. Alas, my hopes were dashed. When the adrenalin doesn't work, they use the defibrillator in the usual erroneous Hollywood way.

Once more with feeling: A defib unit is not like jumper cables for your heart! It actually stops the heart, not starts it! 

When the heart stops beating, it's called asystole, which as you can imagine is a bad thing. The doctor then injects adrenaline into the patient's heart to hopefully get it beating again. If it works though, the heart will be flip-flopping around inside the chest, which is almost as bad as not beating at all. This random beating is called fibrillation. The defib unit shocks the patient's heart and hopefully gets it beating normally again. In other words, it de-fibrillates the heart, hence the name of the machine.

• After Zoe's resurrected, we're told that her brain is "evolving." Same with Rocky's brain. Whoops! Evolution is the change in the hereditary traits of biological populations over time. By definition an individual cannot evolve. I think the word they're looking for here is "mutating."

• Amazingly, the film trots out the old, "Humans only use 10% of their brains" trope! The exact same one used in last year's LucyAs always, I feel it's my duty to point out that this is absolutely not true. There's never any part of our brains that is not functioning. It's The Myth That Will Not Die.

They do have Niko say something about the entire human brain is always active, but some parts only function at 10%, but that's not true either, and confuses the matter even further.

• Is there any reason why all the lab corridors had fluorescent lights at the bottom of the walls, right above the floor? I know why the director did this— to make the lab look spooky and otherworldly. But I can't for the life of me think of any real world reason for it. Seems like people would be constantly busting the lights with their feet or when they swept up.

• The film takes place almost entirely in the research lab. It's a fairly large space, but it's still a finite lab. Somehow whenever Zoe kills someone, everyone else in the cast manages to be somewhere else. Where exactly there are, I have no idea.

• As Eva somehow walks around in Zoe's psychically fabricated Hellscape, she finds herself back in her burning apartment. She sees a vision of Young Zoe holding a book of matches, and realizes she set the deadly fire herself. She comforts Young Zoe, telling her that the fire wasn't her fault. 

I'm assuming Eva told her this in order to distract her or something, because the fire most definitely was Young Zoe's fault!

• As the fire rages in Young Zoe's apartment, we see her neighbors desperately trying to reach under their door as they burn to death on the other side. Thing is, there's at least six inches of space between the bottom of the door and the floor. That's a lot of space! What good is a door that doesn't come all the way down to the floor?

This is probably just a characteristic of Zoe's nightmarish Hellscape, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

• Zoe can read her coworkers' minds, except when the script says she can't. When Frank attempts to kill her by injecting her with a deadly chemical, she "sees" the syringe he's hiding behind his back and kills him instead.

Later Eva tries the same trick, and Zoe doesn't see the attack coming. This ignorance on Zoe's part may have all been part of the elaborate Hellscape she created for Eva, but I'm not a hundred percent sure. I'd have to watch the movie again to find out, and that ain't happening.

The Lazarus Effect could have been a decent film if it had examined the concepts it raises. Instead it was more interested in becoming a standard slasher film, littered with jump scares. I give it a C+.

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