Bringing the dead back to life in a horror movie – that usually turns out well, right? Ok, maybe “The Lazarus Effect” is exploring familiar territory. It still has a terrific cast — Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, and Olivia Wilde as the resurrected scientist — and a producer, Jason Blum, with a habit of making acclaimed low-budget horror hits (“Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” “Sinister”) and a recent Oscar-winner (“Whiplash”) under his belt. Director David Gelb is new-ish, but he made a pretty good impression with the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” a few years ago, so maybe this will be a fresh take on a familiar set-up.
Or maybe not. Critics are calling “The Lazarus Effect” familiar, flatly directed and over-reliant on jump scares. The whole “should we bring people back to life?” question is compelling ethical territory, but only if explored; as presented in “The Lazarus Effect,” it’s mostly just a cliche on the way to more booga booga. As for the actors: most have been wasted or miscast, with the highest praise going to a dog playing a resurrected pooch who goes from cute to creepy.
“The Lazarus Effect” hits theaters February 27.
Geoff Berkshire, Variety
Appropriately enough for a horror-thriller about raising the dead, “The Lazarus Effect” has spent the past few years sitting on a shelf, developing quite a stench in the process. Completed back in 2013 and originally set for release via Lionsgate, the low-budget pic subsequently landed at Relativity, which just last year teamed with producing shingle Blumhouse to distribute the imaginative and unsettling “Oculus.” No such luck this time around, as “Lazarus” shamelessly steals from superior genre efforts and lacks any distinguishing traits beyond a wildly overqualified cast. Still, even a modest opening weekend will ensure a profit before toxic word of mouth kills this stinker for good. Read more.
Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
One plot contrivance leads to another, with Zoe emerging from beyond the grave as the mean-girl version of Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy, firing on just about all cylinders of her brain. And where Luc Besson might have staged The Lazarus Effect‘s jump scares with a sense of decorous claustrophobia, director David Gelb doesn’t evince so much as a single compositional sleight of hand, merely delighting in turning lights on and off and watching Zoe appear in random places. Read more.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
In horror stories, it’s customary for characters who want to play God to be undone by their own arrogance. But in “The Lazarus Effect,” arrogance isn’t the problem — it’s simple stupidity. For a movie populated with brilliant scientists, this cautionary tale about trying to raise the dead is consistently undone by incredibly boneheaded decisions, which conveniently raise the stakes and artificially increase the suspense. The feature directorial debut of David Gelb is elegantly shot and sports an impressive cast for a horror entry, including Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde. Those pluses only increase the frustrations, however: Why play down to the basest tenets of a genre when it’s clear the filmmaking aspires to something smarter? Read more.
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
Watching the telekinetically undead Zoe do away with this group in the locked-down science floor of the university, while wholly unmotivated, represents the film’s few moments of oomph. The remaining 98% of the movie, from the predictable jump scares, ubiquitous booms on the soundtrack desperate to create a whiff of drama, and the asinine, sequel-setting conclusion is totally by the book. You’ve seen this movie before with peppier actors, and not tethered to a visually uninteresting set that looks like a remainder from a 10-year-old episode of “CSI.” Read more.
Keith Phipps, The Dissolve
Director David Gelb, best known for the documentary “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi,” struggles to do the same, staging most of the action in a basement lab that seems comically underlit. (Whatever their ethical transgressions, Frank and his team believe in energy efficiency.) The cast of familiar faces mostly just lends “The Lazarus Effect” some unearned respectability. But the film only comes to life in a few fantasy sequences set in a corner of hell made up of Zoe’s childhood memories, which suggests Gelb spent a lot of prep time watching David Lynch movies. The plodding material around those scenes blunts their impact, though, making those sequences just another example of resurrection gone awry. Read more.
James Rocchi, The Wrap
With a script by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, “The Lazarus Effect” has commendable aims; it’s the rare horror film that makes its long, lingering looks as important as its swift startling scares, where how the characters live is just as important as how they die. Director Gelb has an excellent eye; the composition of many of the shots have a fearful symmetry to them, whether the straight lines of a hallway or the round curves of an MRI machine. At the same time, the film also incorporates security footage, hallucinations and special-effects driven moments to strong and stirring effect, with plenty of intermittent lighting to help pump its frequent, fun jump-scares. Read more.
Frank Schenk, The Hollywood Reporter
The screenplay by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater begins promisingly enough with its slow-burn examination of the various moral issues involved. But once Zoe is resuscitated the proceedings descend into familiar horror film film tropes, with Zoe, who’s haunted by horrific memories of a traumatic childhood incident, suddenly exhibiting the ability to read thoughts and move objects with her mind. Death clearly doesn’t become her, as she’s transformed into a vengeful, Carrie-like figure who begins laying waste to her colleagues in extremely violent, albeit PG-13 rated, fashion. Read more.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
How many times in your life have you snuck up on someone and scared them? Three, maybe four times? “The Lazarus Effect” is the kind of horror movie where people do that constantly. It’s basically their standard greeting; instead of “Hello!” they jump on people from behind, sometimes while wearing pig masks. It doesn’t make much sense, but they don’t do it because it’s logical — they do it because this is a bargain basement horror film and you take the scares wherever you can get them. Read more.
Ryan Lattanzio, Thompson on Hollywood
The premise echoes Stephen King’s terrifying early novel “Pet Sematary,” about an Indian burial ground that possesses creepy regenerative powers, by way of a pedestrian David Cronenberg. Elements of body horror get thrown into the mix as “Lazarus Effect” devolves into a mostly fun haunted house movie, as these five scientific crack-ups get locked on the premises overnight and everything goes malevolently kooky. Read more.