The Lazarus Effect
So, here's the deal, scientists. If you're ever tempted to bring someone back from the dead, don't. Just don't.
Does it ever work out? No. Not for Dr. Frankenstein, not for you. When they resurrected that kid in Pet Cemetery, what happened? Not good things, that's what happened. And then consider the zombies. Oh, those zombies. Never have zombies shown themselves to be a societal step forward.
You'd think that the intrepid scientists in The Lazarus Project would've at least seen a commercial for The Walking Dead—or perhaps read our review. But, alas, they're too busy trying to resurrect animals to discuss pop culture trends. Frank and Zoe are the animating entities of this series of morally questionable experiments. Working with something they affectionately call the Lazarus serum, they're trying to figure out how to use it to temporarily resurrect folks who've died, long enough for the physicians to patch 'em up right. "It's giving everyone that second chance they deserve," Frank says.
When, with the help of fellow smartish folks Niko and Clay (along with videographer Eva), they actually do jump-start the heart of a dead dog, they discover the serum has some unanticipated effects, though. The dog's cataracts are now completely gone, for one thing. The animal has lost its appetite. And it has the strange ability to bust out of its kennel, rummage through the refrigerator and, oh, perhaps levitate.
They scan the pooch's brain and discover that the serum, which instead of dissipating like a good serum should, is instead bouncing around the gray areas in the canine's cranium like a red rubber ball, constructing a whole bunch of strange synapses.
But, hey, the dog is alive! Who cares that it wants to snag potato chips from the highest shelf and eat most of the scientists' faces off? Maybe it just needs a friend! Plus, since some evil soldiers from the world's most aggressive pharmaceutical company barged in and took all their scientific journals and evidence and stuff, they'll need to replicate the experiment so they'll have something to present in the inevitable multibillion-dollar lawsuit. The scientists dutifully proceed to plop another expired Fido onto their scientific table of doom, pump some serum into its brain, flip the electrical switch and—
Whoops! Official switch-thrower Zoe forgot to take off her engagement ring and gets electrocuted—unquestionably a bummer. Frank's particularly put out, considering how he and Zoe were engaged and all.
But, hey, they've even got a little serum left! Why not just give Zoe a wee bit of the go-juice? After all, she's already dead. What's the worst that could happen?
Turns out, the worst that could happen is Zoe coming back to life. And that really does speak to us letting God be God. Indeed, other members of the team are less than gung-ho to play God with Zoe's lifeless body. They tell Frank that what he wants to do isn't right—so that's good.
Frank doesn't believe in God, though. And he insists that all the famous life-after-death stories—seeing a bright light and so on—are a result of massive hallucinogens being released by the brain at the moment of death. Zoe, a Catholic who always wears a cross around her neck, isn't so sure. She says energy can't be created or destroyed but simply "moves from one place to another." Human life is a kind of energy that is transitioning at death, she surmises, and that chemical release Frank speaks of may be, in fact, a bridge that helps the soul reach the afterlife. She wonders whether the dog they brought back from the dead might not be so happy about its reanimation. "What if we ripped him out of doggie heaven?" She jokes.
When Zoe herself is ripped back into the land of the living, she says that her own afterlife experience was quite depressing. In her life as a child, she saw her apartment building burn and helplessly watched as some of her neighbors tried, unsuccessfully, to escape. While dead, she returned to that moment again and again—saying she thinks she actually spent years in that recycled period of time, even though she was dead for just 90 minutes or so.
"It was hell," she says. "That's what hell is. You live your worst moment over and over and over, and you can never wake up." She expresses bitterness over being sent to hell for making just one big mistake in her life.
We hear that the Lazarus serum is causing brains to "evolve" incredibly rapidly. What should take place over millions of years, Clay says, it happening in minutes—giving Zoe powers of telekinesis and telepathy. Conversely, there's a suggestion that Zoe's body may be at least partly possessed by an unknown someone.
The movie is named after, of course, the Bible's Lazarus, whom Jesus famously raised from the dead (with much better results, I should say). Our scientists work at a university facility named after St. Paternus, and one of the school's administrators tells Frank that 83% of its students identify as religious.
As mentioned, Zoe and Frank are engaged, and we find out that they live together. We see them kiss. And we hear that she's bummed they put marriage on hold for three years for the sake of their science. Niko, meanwhile, is secretly in love with Zoe, and he'd very much like to see her split up with Frank. Not that that makes him a bad man: When Zoe returns from the dead and kisses Niko, begging him to make her feel "normal," he retreats, feeling that kissing her is wrong.
When Frank tries to revive Zoe (using more traditional medical means at first), her shirt is ripped open so he can apply the defibrillator's paddles.
We're told that the Lazarus serum causes heightened aggression—which seems like a classic understatement, given what transpires.
Somebody's crushed to death inside a metal storage cabinet. (Blood seeps out.) Zoe kills another person by grabbing his head and squeezing. (We see more blood.) Death also comes by way of choking on an e-cigarette, a drug injection and a broken neck. When Zoe is electrocuted, the shock leaves burns and welts around the engagement ring on her finger. Beyond killing her, naturally.
The process of reviving the dead isn't pretty. It involves inserting a large needle into the skull through the temple—a process we see repeated on both animals and humans. Frank sticks needles into Zoe's arm. Zoe notices that her fingers are turning black, as is the wound on her temple where the serum was injected. In her dreams/visions, we see hands clawing underneath a door. We see an arsonist's fire. And a woman's face and body also seems to burn.
Crude or Profane Language
An indistinct f-word. Nearly 20 s-words. Milder profanities include "a--," "b--ch" and "h---." Sexual slang includes "tap" and "d--k." God's name is mashed up with "d--n," and Jesus' name is exclaimed four or five times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Somebody smokes regular and e-cigarettes. After their apparent success, the scientists open and share a bottle of champagne. Frank and Zoe drink wine on another occasion.
Other Negative Elements
Zoe vomits some sort of white, milky substance.
I think there may have been a better movie in there originally.
The Lazarus Effect might not have ever been a Christian story, but it certainly had aspirations of pitting two worldviews against each other—Frank's scientific rationalism and Zoe's spiritual belief in something beyond what we can empirically understand. And had it survived the filmmaking process, such a core conflict might have at least given this not-even 90-minute tale some structure and meaning.
"I'm just saying if we ask the big questions, we have to be ready for the answers," Zoe says.
But the metaphysical showdown serves little more purpose here than preaching the doctrine of Hollywoodism: Whatever happens, leave the door open for a sequel. Because while it's never a good idea for movieland scientists to raise somebody from the dead, the entertainment industry likes nothing better than to resurrect bad horror movies again and again.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Mark Duplass as Frank; Olivia Wilde as Zoe; Sarah Bolger as Eva; Evan Peters as Clay; Donald Glover as Niko
David Gelb ( )
February 27, 2015
June 16, 2015