The Lazarus Effect
It is universally accepted that one of the greatest mysteries that is not likely to ever be resolved is what happens when you die. Conjecture over this topic is a central theme of most of the world’s religions. There has been a lot of antidotal material pertaining to this topic but actual scientific investigation is by the very nature of the problem untenable. Clouding this subject is the continually changing definition of what constitutes the line between living and dead. Long ago if a person didn’t break up in the morning you kicked him. He didn’t get up and hit you back to class him dead and proceed with whatever cultural necessities demand. This was subject to change over time to include such consistent observations as a cessation of breathing and heartbeat. At this current point, science has been able to establish more complex criteria to declare a person dead. We are able to test for the reflex activity of the pupils, probe for the electrical activity within the brain and even, to some extent, make an estimation as to whether it’s inconsequential background noise or actually indicative of life. This mysterious line that divides the living from the dead is universally applicable and therefore has been a perennial theme for literature and other forms of entertainment. In the 1880s Mary Shelley wrote a little story called ‘Frankenstein’s that posited that science could reach a point where the use of electricity could reanimate the dead. This became one of the most popular ways to fashion a story but is no means the only one. Zombies, vampires and ghosts all manifestations of some form of reanimation or persistence of a person after that. There are several accounts of resurrection in the Bible but by far the most commonly known is that of the resurrection of Lazarus. The name of this man has taken on a greater meaning pertaining to anyone who has come back from the dead. Under the proper conditions a medical team to resuscitate a person who has slipped into the current definition of death back to life. The latest horror film that is taken this name as its own is ‘The Lazarus Effect’, written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater. Both of these screenwriters are relatively new to the industry. The film was directed by David Gelb, whose career up to this point has been mostly as a documentarian. It has been my experience that such a combination can lead to a refreshingly novel approach to well-traveled theme. Unfortunately, this specific instance
A perennial favorite point as the start such a horror movie is scientific research exploring the fringes of our understanding. The precise methodology that defines the context of the story and has ranged from, electricity, as cited above, to hormones, serums or radiation or as a means to repeat the miraculous account in the scriptures. Working at the vanguard of biomedical research Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), have developed the serum. It was designed to help bring patients that are in a persistent coma back to consciousness. Initially their trials have proven unsuccessful but so often happen in research, during testing a more important function can be attributed to the work. The serum, ‘Lazarus’ appeared to have the remarkable effect of reanimating the dead which understandably led to the codename, ‘Lazarus’. Frank’s further investigation was aided by their friends Niko (Donald Glover), Clay (Evan Peters) enjoined by a videographer, Eva (Sarah Bolger). As it turns out many of the cast members here have experience in such matters. Ms. Wilde had been a regular for the Fox television series, ‘House, M. D.’; and Mr. Evans has portrayed characters that of course that serious line employing various methods as a regular cast member for’ American Horror Story’. Despite various unsuccessful attempts the push on with the research protocols the researchers up to the point of animal testing. The serum is administered to a Rocky, dog that had died of old age. Although life was restored the temperament of the dog was not the same and there were several physiological changes that have been made. The cataracts that the dog had exhibited prior to treatment disappeared but drastically offsetting that was the animal’s loss of appetite accompanied by unusual changes in behavior and capabilities. Frank and the others had been performing this research without the sanction of the University. The head of university, President Dalley (Amy Aquino) admitted the office the research halted.
Adding significantly to the frustration Frank and the others are feeling, the pharmaceutical company that had been financing their efforts have pulled the support which is acquired by another such company that were less particular about such formalities as adherence to legal and moral guidelines. The immediately confiscate all notes and materials pertaining to the project. Such actions never work in the movies as demonstrated by Frank and his crew sneaking back into the lab in order to duplicate the serum. During this process Zoe is accidentally electrocuted and dies. Unable to let her go Frank in desperation administers the serum to her. It seems to work as Zoe does return to life. When confronted with the inevitable question of what, if anything, she experienced, Zoe responds that a terrible event in childhood became the basis for a nightmarish experience. It seems that when she was a child the apartment house family was living in court on fire. The young Zoe watched helplessly as the neighbors were burnt to death. It had been noticed in the aftermath of Rocky’s exposure that after revival the synapses of the brain continue to form completely new pathways. This was manifested in Zoe to the abilities of psychokinesis and telepathy. An unscrupulous pharmaceutical company such as the one that acquired the rights would see this as an amazing marketing point despite the fact that the new abilities are accompanied by a drastic increase of hostility and aberrant changes to her personality. These changes are noted when Niko walks into a room with Zoe. Inexplicably she demands that he kissed her and then rebuked to demonstrate the strength of psychokinesis by slamming him into a closet and crushing him inside. When Clay comes in to investigate he becomes the next fatality, this time using an affectation of popular culture by suffocating him with his e-cigarette. Rampages completely undeterred by her feelings and relationships prior to her death and resurrection. When Frank, realizing she must be stopped, attempts to administer poison to Zoe she responds by killing him as well. She then injects us over the entire container of the Lazarus serum they just produced. Predictably, Zoe’s powers increased with unimaginable level.
Although the story does appear to be overly contrived at eminently predictable, its execution, no pun intended, came across as marginally novel. The extent of this occurring was significantly due to the acting ability of the cast. Their performances did help carry the material than might otherwise be possible. I’ve seen several cases where a form documentarian has undertaken fiction. With this movie, Mr. Gelb to that he needed a long good learning curve to make the transition. One of the major determines to success is over editing. The film is only 83 minutes long, inclusive of opening and closing credits. Just at the point of achieving momentum, the film ends. As fans of the HBO series ‘The Sopranos’ can attest an abrupt conclusion can provide a desirable shock value. If only that was the case here might’ve turned out different in the overall assessment. Over the years there have been innumerable permutations over scientific advancement challenging the natural order of things. This places a burden on any filmmaker attempting to go in this direction. Instead Mr. Gelb seems to be unable to properly pull from his factually oriented body of work, translating it to a suitably scary piece of fiction. He relies too heavily on playing to expectations rather than telling a reasonably terrifying story. His attempts to emulate the found footage style that enigmatically remains popular particularly with teenage horror fans were not successful. Perhaps if he had relied on his proven abilities and frame the story within the context of a pseudo-documentary he might’ve achieved a better outcome.