Well folks, it finally happened. Despite their long history of immaculately conceived, pristinely rendered and unerringly good horror films, Blumhouse Productions has finally churned out a bad one. The company that was somehow able to turn an obvious cash-grab prequel into one of the best horror films of 2014 wasn’t able to make good on a story of resurrection and pseudo-scientific evolution with their familiar, predictably solid cast of B list talent Although they can still safely be called the definitive name in 21st Century horror, they’re no longer above shipping out the same over-produced, under-written, notably rushed schlock that defines most of the genre today.
After four years of arduous research, a team of Berkeley-based scientists have produced the miracle drug of the 21st century: The Lazarus Serum. When combined with targeted electro-shock therapy, the serum is able to not only re-animate the dead, but triggers a kind of cognitive evolution within the subject to turns them into something far more than simply human. But when a lab accident electrocutes one of the project’s lead scientists, her desperate colleagues will do anything to save her life: including reviving her with their experimental drug. They were so concerned with bringing her back, however, that they never stopped to think of where they were bringing her back from.
While generally bad (although I won’t go so far as to say terrible), The Lazarus Effect does have its merits. It’s essentially last year’s Lucy reimagined as a horror film: turning the idea of cognitive enhancements causing a person to become more in touch with the human condition on its head by reminding us of just how damaged, depraved and all around vile human beings actually are. It posits that there is a very good reason why evolution takes place so gradually: over thousands, if not millions, of years and countless generations. No organism can be reasonably expected to cope with such monolithic enhancements to their cognition within their own lifetime. The problem is, however, that the film explores these themes with only slightly greater intelligence and skill than the notoriously abhorrent Event Horizon.
Although not so patently dreadful as its most arduous detractors would have you believe, The Lazarus Effect never the less hosts a sprawling laundry list of defects that make it little more than a poorly executed, if intriguely conceived, horror film. While Blumhouse has built its solid reputation off of tautly-strung suspense and methodical staging, The Lazarus Effect reveals too much, too soon and to far too little effect, relying on predictable jump scares and an uncommonly interesting premise to carry the full weight of its narrative. It characters, although somewhat sympathetic, are far too underdeveloped to warrant anything more than a superficial investment in their eventual fate.
Most frustrating of all, however, is the writing, which is so belabored with extraneous plot points it’s a wonder that it ever got green-lit in the first place. There’s an entire sub-plot devoted to conspiratorial corporate espionage allowing a faceless pharmaceutical company to worm their way into wholesale ownership of the Lazarus Serum. While there’s nothing wrong with this idea in theory, it ultimately goes nowhere: hurriedly propelling the protagonists toward human trials that could have just as easily been arrived at on its own, only without the roughly fifteen minutes of wasted time.
The resurected dog is similarly wasted: an early plot contrivance which exists only to establish the viability of the serum and to tick off the first couple jump scares of the film. When its usefulness is out-stripped by that of the demonic Doctor Zoe, the newly revived antagonist kills it off screen before moving on to her human victims. Imagine instead if the dog – which plot had already dictated was hyper-aggressive – kills the good Doctor, prompting her revival with the Lazarus Serum. Her increased brain capacity allows her to telepathically possess the dog, sicking it on her fellow scientists as a demonstration of her augmented psyche and as a real physical threat of the team to deal with while Zoe gorges herself on the remaining Lazarus Serum. It streamlines the dog into the main narrative while removing the unnecessary sub-plot with the pharmaceutical company.
While I have to give it some points for at least trying to do something interesting, the film’s overall quality is unquestionably lacking. It’s sloppy, under-developed and not the least bit frightening. While it may be worth checking out some day on TV, it’s nothing that anybody needs to see in theaters.