The 400-Word-Review: The Lazarus Effect

By Sean Collier

March 3, 2015

I don't think this hand belongs to me.

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A fine cast is wasted on an unimaginative project in The Lazarus Effect, as yet another crew of dreamers totally aren’t playing god in their efforts to awaken the dead.

Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) think they’ve discovered a way to medically awaken the recently deceased; he sees it as a potential life-saver for emergency rooms, she worries about the existential ramifications. But who has time to contemplate? With the aid of student helpers Clay (Even Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover) and embedded documentarian Eva (Sarah Bolger), they’ve reanimated a pooch. Fido is a little off, and prone to semi-violent freak-outs, but success is success!

When big pharma swoops in and assumes the rights to the work due to a contractual gaffe, though, Frank rushes everyone back into the lab to replicate the experiment before the bigwigs can ... do something else? This gets a little fuzzy. Anyway, Fido the second is ready for his wake-up call when Zoe is electrocuted. The CPR doesn’t work! The defibrillator doesn’t work!

Hey, know what else we can try?

If it sounds like Pet Sematary with science in the place of a mystical graveyard, you’re exactly right. We’ve seen it all before, right down to the canine comeback preceding human trials. (To be fair, this really goes back all the way to “The Monkey’s Paw,” not just to Stephen King.) The intrigue, then, is not in the notion of de-corpsing, but in what will be done with the resurrected folks after they return.


Unfortunately, in The Lazarus Effect, imagination runs short. Yes, Zoe gets evil in a hurry, but she’s content to turn the lab into a lazy Halloween attraction, all flickering lights and toppled tables. The scares are mathematic at best and parodic at worst; on more than once occasion, a non-diegetic shriek is pasted atop a jump scare to ensure that audiences members spill their popcorn. One interesting twist in Zoe’s backstory is presented, but neglected for a time and ultimately ignored.

Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater’s hasty script gets a share of the blame, but the lion’s share goes to director David Gelb. Acclaimed as a documentarian (Jiro Dreams of Sushi), he’s out of his element here, only able to imitate and approximate how horror should look. Fortunately, the cast is pitch-perfect, particularly Wilde, Bolger and budding scream king Peters. If only they’d been given something worthwhile to do.

My Rating: 4/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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