FEBRUARY 26, 2015
There aren't many real world references in The Lazarus Effect, so it's a bit odd that they opt to throw out a nod to "Cujo" regarding the potentially evil dog that our hero scientists resurrect before trying it on a human corpse. Cujo is, of course, a Stephen King story, and this movie is about the consequences of playing god and bringing someone back from the dead, which should almost certainly bring Pet Sematary to any horror fan's mind. So why establish that this is a world where King exists, but not go all out and mention Pet Sematary to get them off the hook for whatever story beats it copies (inadvertently or not)? It's like some weird, opposite version of having your cake and eating it too.
Anyway, the real takeaway here is that the movie, for better or worse, has the most accurate trailer I've seen in ages, as it promises exactly what the movie offers - nothing more, nothing less. It almost takes place in real time from the moment Olivia Wilde's character is resurrected (you've all seen the trailer, I assume, so I'm not spoiling anything), so there really isn't much of an opportunity to do anything but what the trailer shows; i.e. that Wilde is resurrected and is now evil. There are some plot threads that the trailer never hinted at, such as Ray Wise as a corporate bigwig who steals their formula once they've been banned from the school (because they challenged religious beliefs on school grounds, or something), but they're all go-nowhere bits that never come back - Wise has that one scene and is never heard from again. Even the damn dog disappears from the narrative, same as he does in the trailer, once Wilde becomes the main source of terror.
So you might complain that the movie is too basic, but in a way I found it kind of refreshing that there wasn't any big twist or hidden 3rd act. I remember folks being disappointed that Lucy (which this movie occasionally reminded me of; it even brings up the old "10% of the brain" thing) wasn't as much about an ass-kicking ScarJo as the trailer suggested, but something more spiritual/metaphysical (and even kind of touching, in the scene where she called her mom), so they should be happy that Lazarus Effect delivers 100% on its marketing promises, free of any challenge. I've said this before, but it bears repeating - the more complicated a horror movie is, the less likely it is to scare anyone, because you're keeping your brain tapped into different areas and not letting your guard down enough for a "boo!" moment to work. I can't tell you how scary any of the jumps are here, because I just don't get scared at such things, but the (very small) audience yelped a few times, even at the one from the trailer with the dog ("Maybe if we up the dosage we-"), so the "keep it simple" ploy seemed to work.
Personally, I found myself more entertained with the cast, almost none of whom show up in horror movies all that often. Donald Glover in particular has a nearly comedic-free role, and even sounded believable in the science/tech dialogue scenes; it's a shame he seems more interested in his rap career (I am not a fan) as he's more versatile actor than I would have guessed. Duplass has made a couple (including Mercy, another Blumhouse release) but he's still more known for his directing (and starring within) his own films, and the comedy show The League, than popping up in horror flicks, so that offers some novelty, and Wilde hasn't been in one since Turistas, nearly a decade ago! The actors all have a solid chemistry too, and they all genuinely like each other - you're bound to think of Flatliners as well as Sematary, and in that movie the characters were often at each others' throats, so it's nice to see a version of that story where they're all getting along and having each others' backs.
And it's got some touches I appreciated as a burnt-out horror viewer. When Wilde has to throw the switch to activate the life-giving serum, she needs to remove all of her jewelry first, which we see her do the first time around but she forgets the second (they're under a time limit because they had to break into the lab due to the aforementioned corporate meddling). But it's not telegraphed or anything; director David Gelb doesn't toss in a closeup of her ring or the empty petri dish where she's supposed to put those things, and even after she gets electrocuted no one says something helpful for the cheap seats like "Dammit, she didn't take off her jewelry!" No, they just expect you to remember this plot point from 20 minutes before, so it's nice for a modern PG-13 horror film to depend on audience intelligence for a change, even if it's rather minor (and in a goofy movie about people coming back to life with superpowers). And there's a moment where it seems like someone on the team has sold them out, giving video to Wise's people to further their own career or something, but it turns out to have a simpler, less generic explanation than the umpteenth "traitor in our midst" subplot that we've seen a zillion times.
But why don't they do anything else with the dog, dammit? Wilde gets telekinesis, can read minds, etc. All we know about the dog is that he likes to watch them and prefers junk food to the water they give him. He escapes from his cage and, unless I missed something (I stayed awake! But I did have to run out to blow my nose), is never seen again, though (spoiler) we hear him yelp off-screen to suggest Wilde has killed him too. But why? Wouldn't he, as a fellow returnee, be on her side for whatever it is she's trying to accomplish when she starts killing her friends? They really coulda done more with the dog, in my opinion. Well, I guess I could argue that they coulda done more with EVERYTHING since the movie is stripped to the bare essentials (it's only like 78 minutes minus the credits), but again I kinda liked that it was so to the point. Plus, real time (I can't be sure if it's 100% real time like Nick of Time or whatever, but it certainly FELT that way) is very rare in horror, so to even attempt it is noble enough an endeavor for me to give it my approval.
It's worth noting that I enjoyed the movie despite being in a bad mood to start. As I mentioned, it wasn't very crowded (not a surprise for a Thursday night showing, as outside of the summer these tend to be under-populated no matter what their eventual fortunes may be), but most of the people that were there came in during the trailers. The only other person there before me was a guy who, for whatever reason and regardless of the odds, had opted to sit in my seat (it's an assigned seating theater), forcing me to look like an idiot and say "You're in my seat" to the only other person in a theater that seated probably 200 people. It wasn't just the principle of the thing (I purposely chose the seat, dammit!), but since the odds were clearly stacked against me that evening, I didn't want to just take some other random seat and find out that one belonged to someone. But the guy didn't move! He's like "Just sit elsewhere, who cares?" (which, again, made some sense, being that it was a then-empty theater), so I just sat a few seats away, figuring I'd wait until the movie started to safely move to a better one. But of course, the only other people who came in also sat in the prime center sections of the rows behind him, so no matter what I'd be a. off to the side, or b. the weird guy sitting way too close to strangers in a still mostly empty theater. And this being a PG-13 horror movie, cell phone abuse was almost a certainty, so I just stayed where I was because no one else was in front of us (and going up closer would be too close to the screen for my tastes). What an asshole, but also, what the hell? Of all goddamn seats...
Anyway, it's a perfectly decent little horror thriller. It explained that Hell was what I believe it to be (not a place where you're set on fire or whatever, but merely an endless loop of the worst moment in your life, for eternity), so I was on board with its minor religious aspects, and it's the rare modern horror movie where I didn't hate a single character (even Evan Peters' stoner was fine). It could have been more fleshed out (and/or broke out of the Flatliners/Pet Sematary mold a bit more often) and it's a crime to hire Ray Wise and only let him have one scene, but like the year's only other major horror release so far (Woman in Black 2), it does what little it set out to do well, and for someone who barely gets to go to the movies anymore, that's enough for me to be satisfied. I'm easy to please when it gets me off diaper duty for a couple hours!
What say you?