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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Lazarus Effect | Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger, Amy Aquino | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Lazarus Effect | Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger, Amy Aquino | Review

The Biblical tale of Lazarus is one of raising the dead, so there’s a titular hint for you.  Modern day researchers with good intentions attempt a similar experiment with disastrous results.

The short (83 minute) film finds a group of university researchers conducting dead animal (pig and dog) resurrections with an invented serum that looks like milk but does not “do a body good.” Can a human subject be far behind?  Hell, no, and I do mean Hell.  Did they learn nothing from Pet Sematary?  Reanimator?  There’s never a happy ending.

Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are engaged lab partners (she’s got a killer ring to prove it) that have developed a serum for the purpose of lengthening the time surgeons have to operate (on the living) before the human body shuts down.  All very noble, except that they quickly discover that their miracle drug has the ability to bring dead things back to life.  

In rapid succession, it’s time for the group to break out the champagne, get scolded by the university president (Amy Aquino) lose access to their lab and all rights to their discovery, break into the lab, and experience a human death.  Zoe gets zapped and Frank gets desperate.

What to do, what to do. (Snaps finger).  Let’s use the serum!

Fellow accomplices Clay (Evan Peters) Niko (Donald Glover) and millennial videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger) try to insist it’s a bad idea, but finally stick around for the “things go terribly wrong” phase of the film.

The tiny attempt at originality stems from a recurring nightmare about a childhood fire that haunted Zoe in life and intensifies after her death.  She comes back, damaged and dangerous and demonic, although that, and a host of other illogical events are never explored.  In fact, the discovery of a reanimation drug is the most believable plot point.  It dives into puzzling paroxysms of preposterousness AFTER that.

Next come a series of seen-it-all-before cinematic devices (fake-outs, extinguished lights, sinister silhouettes, eye-whites going black, voice morphing into a menacing bass, a lethal syringe that someone has to jab into the newly created abomination – if they’re able, etc.)  

Wilde’s baleful glances are good for an occasional recoil, but other, tired techniques (see above) combined with senseless plot progression tank this rise from the dead fable, making it die again.  Mark Duplass and the rest of the competent cast are better than the material they have to work with.

Director David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) does pull off some skillful scenes of malevolence on the move, but these are scattered far and wide within the story.  The “Big Secret” is anticlimactic and the ending is ripe for a sequel so this film may come back from the dead itself.

At least that would be one more chance to get it right.


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