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Family Movie Review: The Lazarus Effect (PG-13)

TheLazarusEffect ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): half-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 83 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is a back-from-the-dead possession story, with one character becoming evil and killing off people by stabbing them, breaking their necks, crushing them, and choking them; there is also a fatal electrocution, a dog brought back from the dead that becomes aggressive and violent, and some other nightmarish sequences. Also some kissing and implied romantic feelings; jokes about sex; cursing; drinking; and smoking marijuana.

‘The Lazarus Effect’ goes where many films have gone before in exploring what would happen if someone were brought back from the dead. The results are unsurprising and unpromising.

By Roxana Hadadi

At a time when practically any horror film can spawn a sequel and possibly even a franchise, it’s unsurprising that “The Lazarus Effect” plays out the way it does, with familiar jump scares, obvious CGI, and an ending that could be left open to some degree of interpretation. But by fulfilling that expectation, “The Lazarus Effect” simultaneously disappoints.

Written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater and directed by David Gelb, the film is about a team of Berkeley medical researchers who supposedly are trying to improve medical outcomes for patients before the onset of brain damage, but in reality are working on a way to bring people back from the dead. The team is led by engaged scientists Frank (Mark Duplass, of “Tammy”) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde, of “Rush”), who are assisted by pot-smoking Clay (Evan Peters, of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”), the Zoe-adoring Niko (Donald Glover, of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”), and videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger).

They unexpectedly reach success by reanimating a dog with a serum they call Lazarus (a Biblical reference, if you didn’t know), but when Frank and Zoe take the dog home, it starts acting strangely (like standing beside Zoe while she sleeps and watching her). Larger problems arrive, though, when the university’s dean finds out what they’re actually using their funding on and pulls support for them, and a pharmaceutical company sweeps in and claims all their work. What are Frank and Zoe to do? Keep working on the experiments with secret stashes of serum they had hidden away, of course! And what is Frank to do when Zoe is accidentally electrocuted and killed during the clandestine continuation of their work? Stick her with the serum and hope for the best, of course!

The best arrives in Zoe’s return from the dead, but immediately everyone can tell that their friend is different: Not only does she boast powers including telepathy and telekinesis now, but she also has a desire to see all of her old friends die. The resurfacing of a childhood trauma doesn’t help, nor does the suggestion that Frank and Co. removed Zoe from Hell—or maybe even Heaven.

We’ve seen all this stuff before, from Mary Shelley’s original novel “Frankenstein” to the horror comedy “Re-Animator” to the more seriously minded “Flatliners,” all of which considered the line between life and death with more nuance than “The Lazarus Effect” does. Ideas are thrown around—the possibility of the afterlife, the difference between Heaven and Hell, the weight of guilt on the human soul, the responsibility of science versus the adherence to faith—but they’re barely given lip service before Zoe’s slasher-fest begins, and that violence clearly takes over the narrative of the film. Perhaps these are concepts that will be explored in sequels, but it’s frustrating to see them mentioned here and then never reconsidered.

Add that to the film’s mismatched cast—Wilde is fine, even as her performance becomes overshadowed by her black contacts and increasingly bizarre makeup, but the more comedy-minded Duplass and Glover don’t really bring anything extra to their roles—and the obvious open door for a sequel, and “The Lazarus Effect” ultimately feels like a waste of time. A movie that’s more consumed with what could happen after the story its telling than the one it is telling is a film with incorrect priorities, and that’s “The Lazarus Effect” in a nutshell.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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