The Lazarus Effect is a 2015 movie from first-time horror-director David Gelb. With a stacked cast, the movie follows a team of scientists who develop a serum that can bring dogs, pigs, Olivia Wilde, and presumably even more back to life. Shockingly, the serum doesn't work exactly as expected. Check out the trailer below, and then let us know if you agree with our review:
Jack: Oh Jake. Oh no. Fuck. I would like not to have seen that movie.
Jake: Well you picked it, man. You dug that grave. Although, you’re right. I didn’t quite expect it to be . . . that.
Jack: Yeah. I don’t regret picking it, because I was really stoked on it. Also, I hadn’t seen its rotten tomatoes score. Although I often like movies that get an RT score in the thirties or forties. Turns out 13% is less than 40% (who knew?).
Jake: Your math really has issues... Now, we recently received some feedback suggesting we conduct our reviews in a more linear fashion. We, being the self-reflective and mature writers that we are, appreciated and considered that advice. Then we promptly decided to disregard it because no one can fucking tell us what to do.
Jack: Exactly. All you really have in life is your pride right, Jake?
Jack: But then we changed our minds again, because fuck you, we’re layered like that. So we’ll try to go a little more linear-ly with the review. But my god are we going to resent you for it.
Jake: Don’t listen to Jack. He’s all riled up because no one agrees with him that Rusted Root sounds like David Byrne singing lead for Paul Simon during his African soul period. Okay back to business. I was also game to see this movie, though it’s worth noting that I generally try to avoid taking a deep dive into review-land before seeing something. I really like both Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde, have been a fan of some of the work of Donald Glover (mostly Childish Gambino) and Evan Peters was ok. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sarah Bolger, but that’s still a pretty good cast as far as a horror movie goes.
Jack: Okay, guy. Stop. That is literally exactly what Rusted Root sounds like. Sure I’ve only heard that one song, but so has everyone else! That guy is just David Byrne, if David Byrne was a filthy hippy. But I’m a professional. I can move past it. The director of the Lazarus Effect, David Gelb, made his first foray into feature film directing with this movie, having previously worked on documentaries including directing Jiro Dreams of Sushi which I fucking loved (because I’m white and I listen to NPR and so liking that movie is the law).
Jake: Interesting. I did not know that about the director. But damn, was the cast wasted on this one. Not just because you can guess the entire plot before you are three minutes into the movie (predictable movies can still be excellent), but because all this movie has to offer is a loose amalgamation of techno-babble, tropey bullshit, and the occasional lazy jump scare sprinkled in for good measure.
Jack: And it’s a goddamned shame because with the exception of Sarah Bolger, who had no character to speak of, I actually enjoyed all of the performances and the interactions between the characters. And a few of the early jump scares were effective, and by effective, I simply mean that they did startle me.
Jake: I guess. Jump scares are pretty ineffective without support. They just don’t work unless they are really well tied into the atmosphere of the movie and help with the ebb and flow of tension, or provide a complete fuckin’ lightning bolt like in Lake Mungo. This film seemed like it tried to rest on the jump scares.
Jack: We’re trying for a linear plot-driven review. I’ll get us back on track. I don’t like to throw the word “hero” around lightly, but since you said it, I’ll agree. I am the readers’ hero. Okay, so they first experiment with the Herbert West serum on some dead lab-pigs.
Jake: You’re neither the hero we want, nor deserve. When it works on one of the pigs, they next try the serum on some dead dog, with very little tying together of the how’s and the why’s. There was a pig, and then there was a dog. I want to give the benefit of the doubt to this one and say that there’s an intention to take the “dog always dies” trope and turn it on its head. Too kind?
Jack: Probably too kind. The serum works on the dog, which in a bit of just staggeringly good science, they immediately take home and keep as a pet. And in a wildly unexpected and novel plot-twist, the dog starts behaving abnormally. Not scarily in any way, mind you, just strangely. I mean, for fuck’s sake, my dog Mo jumps up on my bed and stares me in the face until I wake up and pet her almost every damn night. And that dumb bitch is mostly not an evil psychopath at all.
Jack: Now, the whole movie is chock-full of bananas techno-babble. Like, on another level technobabble. It didn’t bother me at first, because I thought they were just going to get some hand-waving exposition out of the way, establish that I shouldn’t be thinking too much about it, and move on. But that is not what happened. Full disclosure, my undergrad degree is in biochemistry, so Jake has had to meticulously delete roughly thirty-six pages of ranting about the horse-shit science in this movie.
Jake: Yes. I did have to edit the absolute fuck out of you this week. It was brutal. I am the hero the readers both want and deserve.
Jack: In any case, I could go on at length about how much stock this movie places in the chemical DMT, when that chemical has never actually been proven to be released upon human death or even produced by the human brain; alternatively, I could go on about how Olivia Wilde’s nonsense about what happens after death is only overshadowed crazy-wise by her support for that claim of neural impulses proving heaven because energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The electrical energy from neural impulses does not get destroyed upon death. That energy is still present within the brain and does not become a soul or whatever the fuck her claim was. You can’t develop a character as a brilliant scientist but have her weirdly specific dialog get so much stuff wrong. It’s all the characters too. Evan Peters’ character says “hypothyroidism” at one point when he clearly meant “hyperthyroidism.” And fucking trust me. I rewound that shit a bunch. I did not mishear it.
Jake: Rewinding an insignificant exposition scene over and over to listen for the difference between “hyper” and “hypo”: definitely not the behavior of a maniac. And also good job not “going on” about those things. Nailed it.
Jack: Okay fine, so I’m in too deep. I can abide scientific inaccuracies when they are intermittent and in service of the plot, but not when a fucking third of your movie’s dialog is nothing more than having talented actors read the “science words” article you found on Wikipedia.
Jake: Well you could rant all day about this shit, but not all of us have biochemistry degrees, you dick. I guess my feeble little business brain couldn’t quite pick out the amount of issues as you, but that’s not to say it wasn’t bad because holy jeebus did it slip some dumb shit in there. But let’s just get on with it.
Jack: Oh right. Plot. Shit. Okay, so after the serum is proven, there’s a cookie-cutter scene of Mark Duplass’ boss telling him to stop and then some legal-ease as the new owners come in. Bottom line, our heroes (?) have to sneak back into the lab to replicate the experiment before they get shut down.
Jake: I’ve gotta stop things because something truly special happened here. At this point in the plot, the movie has the tremendous pendulous testicles to make fun of tropes appearing in other movies. Olivia Wilde exposes her naivete by wanting another character to “loop” the security videos like she’s seen on tv. It’s played for laughs. Nope. And there’s a part where Peters’ character recites the “it’s alive!” line while blowing vape smoke into the dog’s face like a total douche-nozzle.
Jack: Right?! It also references both Kujo and Gremlins at other points, both of which are significantly better movies. Let me ask you a question Jake: was any of this movie in any way scary (creepy, unsettling, unnerving, etc) other than the few jump scares?
Jake: No. No it was not. The jump scares were too numerous and too forced to work even in the slightest. I thought the black eye effect was mildly unsettling. I also thought that zombie-telepath-bitch chose some mildly clever and discomforting ways to murder her fellow cast. The scariest thing was that with each member of the cast she extinguished, that was one less decent actor remaining, further lowering my enjoyment of the movie. These are not the thoughts you should have while watching an effective film.
Jack: Exactly. To re-wind a bit for the listener, during the experiment re-creation, Olivia Wilde dies from the switch exploding electricity when she hadn’t taken off her engagement ring. Do you have to take rings off before flipping giant switches that I’m damn sure are rated to handle that kind of electricity? NO! You fucking don’t. Then, and this is just right out of left field, Mark Duplass uses the Herbert West serum on her!!
Jake: Couple things: They’re readers, not listeners. Just because you have to record your portion of this so I can transcribe it because you’re motherfucking illiterate doesn’t mean our audience has to hear your ramblings like I do. Again. Hero. Second, because of this movie’s stale plot, I felt like I was just waiting the whole goddamn time for Olivia Wilde to get zombified. Took forever.
Jack: As I’m sure you guessed, Olivia Wilde comes back from the dead, goes bananas, and kills everyone. Boring. But there were some really strange mixes of science and religion. Olivia Wilde seemed to be scared of the crucifix after she came back from the dead. Are telekinetic / telepathic zombies scared of Jesus like demons? Is science evil? There are so many undeveloped themes in the movie.
Jake: You’re talking about the undeveloped themes in this film, but does it have any developed themes? Please tell me of them, I would love to know.
Jack: This movie infuriated me. Non-stop. I usually love a movie that clocks in at a tight 90 minutes, but this movie broke that rule. It felt so much longer. Even the special effects on Olivia Wilde after she went full-monster seemed lazy. The effect of her skin cracking and fragmenting looked exactly the same as the effect on Famke Janssen from X-3.
Jake: Do you have anything else to add? Your lunatic ranting is getting as boring as the movie was.
Jack: Oh buddy. Do I ever!! [Gameshow music] Annnnnnnddddd, it’s back! I have been figuratively inundated with emails demanding the return of my award-winning segment, Jack’s Incomprehensible Note of the Week, and who am I to argue with all you beautiful people? So here it is; I found it on page four of my notes in between anger-scribbles:
“weird chemistry b/t McD and documents”
If anyone has even one idea as to what this means, please, for the love of god, leave it in the comments or let us know by Twitter. I need to know. And until then . . . RATINGS!
For 1, think of how Tuukka Rask would rate letting goals through:
For 10, think of how Fuzzy Lumpkins would rate people staying the fuck off of his lawn:
Jack: 2 - The overall story is mildly interesting, but played out (see Pet Cemetery or Re-Animator), and all this movie did to add to it is annoying plot-holes like the giant faceless corporation taking away some of the key cards but not deactivating all of them after spending millions on this billion-dollar serum.
Jake: 3 - Agreed. The premise was clearly ok enough to get me to watch the fucking movie, but the movie itself never comes close to cashing in on the idea.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 3 - The chemistry between the actors in this movie almost sucked me in at some points, but then I started paying attention to the dialog again . . .
Jake: 3 - I had trouble getting remotely into this one from the jump, which is a problem for such a short movie. And it got worse from there.
Jack: 2 - Like I mentioned earlier, the only thing approaching anything scary were the jump scares, which did startle me once or twice. But it never creeps you out, instills a feeling of dread, makes you feel isolated, or anything else like that.
Jake: 2 - The black eyes were a little eerie, and there were some uncomfortable-seeming deaths. But I’m really reaching, here.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 3 - The telekinesis looked fine I guess. As did Olivia Wilde’s black eyes and monster breaking skin. Just nothing even remotely unique.
Jake: 3 - I didn’t notice anything spectacular or terrible. There wasn’t much going on to begin with.
Jack: 2 - I did not enjoy this movie. Now maybe that's not "hip," or "funny," or whatever . . . but it's all I got.
Jake: 2.75 - I’m assuming I’m coming in slightly higher because I was less pissed off at the movie than Jack. Can’t recommend it.