Over-Analyzing "The Lazarus Effect": Why This Movie Deserves to Die, and Stay Dead

I recently saw "The Lazarus Effect".

This thing.

Like the two other atrocious horror movies I've reviewed for this blog, I had high hopes for The Lazarus Effect. The plot - if I may use the term so generously - is the sort of thing you'd come up after reading Stephen King novels during an LSD nightmare. Frank and his remarkably understanding fiancee, Zoe, are scientists trying to come up with a way to help coma patients. What they come up with instead is the Lazarus serum, which does exactly what its name implies - it skips the whole "coma" thing and brings the freaking dead back to life. The team are just celebrating their first success when disaster strikes - their lab is shut down, and a member of their team is accidentally killed in a terrible accident. Desperate, they use the Lazarus serum on her, only to realize that they all should have watched Pet Semetary before deciding to mess around with dead things.



Watch this trailer and tell me you still have dry pants.

This was the movie I have been waiting for all my life. It has science. It has the paranormal. It has white people foolishly playing with dead things that should probably be left alone. It has a broke undergraduate student. Know what it doesn't have?

Any semblance of a plot, characterization, or any redeeming features whatsoever.

Don't believe me? Let's look at some specific reasons why this movie would be better off staying dead:

There's no way Zoe's "accident" should have killed her. 

Before this movie completely jumps the track from "hastily farted-out Insidious ripoff" to "full-fledged crime against horror movies as a genre", we actually get to see the Lazarus serum in action. Frank flops an elderly, freeze-dried dog mummy onto the operating table, the team goes Dr. Frankenstein on it, and lo and behold, Fido leaps off the table, young and healthy again. Having effectively rendered every medical advancement in history about as useful as palm-reading, the group sit back and prepare to rake in all the money ever. To their surprise, the university turns out to not be cool with them illegally experimenting on the corpses of beloved family pets in the basement, and a 3rd party company buys out the lab, which in this universe includes all the intellectual property rights to their research. Desperate to prove that they are the ones who took a dump on death itself, the group break into the lab in the middle of the night to recreate the experiment on video and prove ownership.

This guy's entire role in the experiment is just to make this face, all the time.

A movie about a group of scientists filing a formal petition to claim the patent for their serum would make a terrible movie, so of course, the second experiment goes about as wrong as is possible for an experiment to go. Zoe's official role in the project - besides glowering at computer readouts and somehow not breaking up with Frank - is pulling a large lever that delivers the '1970s sci-fi movie' levels of  electricity needed to jump-start the dead. Before touching the lever, she is always careful to remove her jewelry, but in her hurry to get the procedure over with during the break-in, she forgets, and is tragically fried to a crisp.

Did I mention that she's even wearing rubber gloves at the time?

Fucking what?

If their lab is using so much electricity that it can jump through an insulated handle to barbeque a scientist through her semi-conductive engagement ring, then they aren't shock-starting the dead back to life. They're making dog-shaped charcoal briquettes. See, it doesn't actually matter how long you've been dead, or how dead you are - the heart is a delicate organ, and it can only handle so much electricity before it turns into cardiac jerky. If they're using enough current to flash-fry a grown woman, then a dog half her size doesn't stand a chance. At most, they'd be using the current found in a standard defibrillator (a device, I feel obligated to point out, that can't actually start a heart - it was designed to stop hearts). And defibrillators don't have nearly enough current to affect jewelry. There's an incredible amount of metal in and around some human bodies - earrings, wedding bands, dental fillings, pacemakers, surgical screws - and you can still safely run a current through the body that's strong enough to stop the heart. The fact that everyone in the room doesn't have to pry out their dental fillings before they test should be enough of a clue that they aren't unleashing an entire power station on their subjects. At worst, Zoe would have gotten an annoying shock, not been straight-up cooked to death. This is a horror movie - they could have come up with any number of creative and plausible lab-related deaths for Zoe, but they picked something ridiculously non-fatal.

They are testing on the worst possible subjects. 

The purpose of the Lazarus serum was to help coma patients. They weren't trying to cheat death itself - they were trying to stave it off long enough to give coma patients a fighting chance. Even if they did change their entire purpose in life to tea-bagging the Grim Reaper, they're actually going out of their way to make sure they fail as often as possible. For instance, let's talk about that dog-mummy again.

This thing.

The dog that they (ultimately successfully) test on is about as poor a candidate for some Lazarus-ing as they could lay their hands on. It's old. It's diseased. Its body has been pumped full of toxic chemicals that would have completely obliterated its brain chemistry. It's been dead for some time. They have about as good a chance of resurrecting this thing as I do of being elected president of Guatemala.

I'll be honest, it doesn't look good.

And this makes absolutely no sense, given that they work at a university. Let's be blunt here, folks. Universities go through thousands upon thousands of lab animals every single year, everything from mice to monkeys. Generally speaking, lab animals cannot be re-used from one experiment to another, just in case the effects of the first experiment interfere with the second; they are humanely destroyed when the experiment is over. There's no reason for the crew to be setting themselves up for failure by illegally purchasing the remains of old pets from shady veterinary clinics when they have a constant supply of young, healthy deceased animals at their fingertips. I mean, dead is dead - it's not any less of a breakthrough to resurrect an animal that's been dead a few minutes instead of several weeks. It's not like the directors should have had any qualms about showing the realities of university animal labs - this is a freaking horror movie. If they'd used test subjects that made even the slightest bit of sense, they might have been able to keep their research undetected for a while longer, with a hell of a lot more success along the way.

Their entire university is asleep at the wheel.

After bringing char-broiled Fido back from the dead, the team emerges from the bowels of their basement laboratory, clutching the key to life itself. I mean, I really can't emphasize this part enough. This isn't just a medical breakthrough; these people have actually unearthed the secret to mortal existence. Their invention will literally change what it means to be alive. Death has been a universal reality since multicellular organisms first flopped out of the sea billions of years ago, and now, thanks to their research, that's not true anymore. No one has to die anymore. Every loving parent, brilliant mind and horrendously unlucky skydiving enthusiast that will ever be stolen from humanity can now be returned to life, to be preserved for all of time. They flipped a switch, and changed the meaning of life itself.

And the university is fucking furious.


Admittedly, this shit was probably not in the research grant.

The moment the Dean catches wind of what's going on, the project is shut down and the entire research project is sold to a random, faceless pharmaceutical company, because this is particular university apparently hates violating Judeo-Christian morals about playing with dead things, but also needs more money to fix the Keurig in the staff lounge. The Dean explains that the university simply cannot be associated with this kind of immoral filth, and since I didn't see the words "Brigham Young University" stapled to the door, I have some serious questions about the way this university operates. I mean, sure, they have the chance to go down in history as the place where the final frontier of death itself was conquered, but they can't possibly let anyone find out that they were involved with this research because... reasons, I guess?

I mean, sure, there will be some portion of the general public that is overwhelmingly not okay with this sort of thing, but it's not as if the general public votes on research fund allocation. That's all done by research grant committees, who have seen far, far more horrific animal experiments than a bunch of morons injecting mystery goo into dead pets. So long as the team titles their publication something adequately science-y, like "Restoration of neural activity to the cerebellum following complete brain death" and not "THE DEAD WALK AMONG US!!!", the scientific community is going to shower the university with grant money and publications in Science from now until the end of time itself, because everyone's going to be alive to see that now. Besides, if it's possible for this kind of shit to be done, it means that someone else is eventually going to figure it out anyway - this university might as well be the ones to take the credit for it.

And really, who doesn't want to take credit for this?

For a horror movie, The Lazarus Effect is shockingly insistent on depicting universities as places of upstanding ethics, where only innocent, family-friendly experiments take place. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but universities do some pretty horrific shit in the name of research on a regular basis. Every miraculous medical breakthrough we have was built on the backs of thousands and thousands of dead lab animals. Dr. Fredrick Banting was responsible for the horrible deaths of hundreds of dogs, and yet we remember him as a hero because he also happened to discover insulin, which you may recognize as the only thing keeping Type 1 diabetics alive. When it comes down to it, the general public doesn't actually care all that much about what goes on behind the closed doors of medical research facilities, because when the doctor shows up with a brand new drug that cures your dying daughter's leukemia, you're not really going to care how many animals had to die for that drug to exist.

Grandma's eyes are going to look a little funny from now on, kids, but hey, we got her back.

Even if I buy that this university somehow hates fame, prestige and research publications (which I don't), there's another problem. Namely - how the fuck did the university not figure out that this was going on? The team are apparently the first medical research team in the history of poking dead things with sticks to weasel their way out of routine lab safety inspections, but that doesn't change the fact that someone is still paying their electricity bill. Their experiments use what is apparently an entire power stations' worth of electricity in their experiments every single day, and yet no one finds it suspicious that a team of coma researchers is racking up power bills like a warehouse-sized grow op. Not to mention, they've been down there for freaking years without producing any of that coma research they promised to do. How are they still getting funding? If the university is willing to blindly throw money at a research team for years without popping by even once to check on what they're up to, they deserve to have scientists defiling the laws of God himself in their basement.

These people are idiots.

If I showed up at your front door tomorrow with a large, strange dog of unknown temperament and unknown origin, and asked you to let it sleep in your bedroom with you, you'd look at me like I was the one who deserved to be kept in a locked plastic crate.


"But what if the dog was dead yesterday? Now will you cuddle it?"


The dog in the movie, for all intents and purposes, was taken from a veterinarian's dumpster. They know literally nothing about it, except for the fact that it used to be alive and then it wasn't for a while. They know that there's something not quite right with its brain after it comes back, and so instead of keeping it in the very well-stocked, well-equipped animal housing facilities at the university, they decide to take it home and keep it as a family pet. This is an animal that is more than capable of devouring your spleen if it wants to, and it also happens to be the only creature ever to have travelled back from beyond the veil of death... and Frank and Zoe decide it's a swell idea to give this thing free reign of their house while they're sleeping.

Turns out that wasn't such a smart idea.

Not content with a flagrant disregard for animal handling safety, the team comes back for a stupidity encore when Zoe is killed in her incredibly improbable lab accident. I mean, I understand that Frank doesn't just want to let his fiancee die, but holy shit. They brought back a dog - an animal best known for shitting in bushes and thinking tennis balls are magic - and ended up with an uncontrollable horror beast that hungers for nothing but the flesh of human faces. There's no telling what it'll do to Zoe. In fairness to the movie, most members of the team are against it, but Frank goes right ahead and jams that experimental serum into his fiancee's brain without another thought.

Spoiler Alert: It doesn't go well.

I mean, think about this for just a second. Yeah, they brought a dog back, but a dog is the sort of animal you can quietly shoot behind a dumpster if it starts acting strange. You can't do that to a human unless you're willing to spend the rest of your life hiding out in a country without an extradition treaty. Whatever Zoe wakes up as is going to be Frank's responsibility forever. I can't entirely blame him for failing to predict that she'd wind up as a homicidal hell warrior, but he knew there would be some sort of problem. There are worse fates than death. She could have woken up with uncontrollable behavior problems. She could have lost her mind, her memories, and her ability to feed and bathe herself. She could very well have spent the rest of her life in some kind of home, with a drool bib tied around her neck, because her fiance gambled her life and dignity on an experimental serum that turns dead dogs into Silent Hill villains with fur. Nice.

Zoe's plan makes absolutely no sense.

When Zoe first wakes up, it's pretty clear that something isn't quite right. She sits up, unblinking, unspeaking and unresponsive - typical "I just flipped the bird to brain death itself" kind of stuff. The group do their best to look after her, but it's obvious that the Zoe they lost is not the same as the Zoe they brought back.

This is your first clue that something's gone terribly wrong.

We learn that, as a young child, Zoe was playing with matches in her apartment building when she accidentally started a fire and burned the place right to the ground. As if that wasn't quite traumatic enough, she had to witness one of the neighbour families burning to death in their apartment as she watched from down the hall, too scared to unlock the door, because she apparently lived in the only apartment building in the world with doors that lock from the outside. Zoe spent her whole life trying to do good things for other people to make up for the fact that she couldn't single-handedly rescue an entire family while she was still in Big Kid Pull-Ups, but none of that shit matters, because as soon as she dies, the unforgiving Old Testament God who apparently runs the world sends her straight to Hell. In the real world, she's dead for maybe a minute or two, but in that time, she spends years in Hell, re-living that apartment fire over and over and over again.

This is the face of a woman who is 110% done with that shit.

So that's Zoe's motivation. She's all messed up from re-living her worst memory thousands of times - despite the fact that re-living a traumatic memory is actually the best way to cure PTSD - and she can also read people's minds and do Jedi-style Force tricks, for reasons that are never even remotely explained. Sure. I sat through all five of the Paranormal Activity movies, I'll pretty much buy anything at this point. But what I don't buy is her reaction. Zoe wakes up from an endless nightmare in the arms of her concerned friends... and proceeds to murder the shit out of every single one of them, so she can re-animate them with Lazarus serum. 

Fucking what?

This is not even the third best possible use for this power.

What on earth is her goal here? She stands to gain absolutely nothing by doing this. She's pretty pissed off about having to hang out in the darkest bowels of Hell for a while, but murdering all her friends won't change the fact that that happened to her. Sure, she had to live through an unimaginable horror... but will slaughtering her fiance actually make her feel better? Her fiance is the only reason she managed to escape from Hell in the first place. The incident that sent her down to Lucifer's domain happened long before she even met Frank; it's not his fault that she ended up there. I assume her main goal is to avoid ever going back to Hell ever again, but she's already achieved that just by waking up. As long as the Lazarus serum exists, and she avoids getting disintegrated in some kind of nuclear apocalypse, she never has to die again. If she'd just played nice and stopped freaking the shit out of people, she and Frank could have lived immortally ever after, completely safe from the horrors of Biblical justice. Now, she and her reanimated friends are going to spend the rest of their unnatural lives on the run, because she's ensured that the entire world won't rest until she's dead again. One way or another, she's going right back to Hell eventually.

Didn't think of that, did you?

Not to mention, there's no guarantee that her friends will have the same experiences she did. The movie tries to imply that all humans are sent to Hell after they die for even the tiniest of transgressions, but I mean, Zoe burned an entire family to death. That's not a small thing. Sure, she was all of five years old when she did it, and it wasn't on purpose by any stretch, but that's got to be easily the worst thing anyone in that lab has ever done. She might be sending her entire team off to Heaven, only to have them wake up annoyed minutes later because she called them back right in the middle of a bitchin' harp solo. I think we're meant to believe Zoe is gathering some kind of evil, undead army, but there's a decent chance that her whole team will go off to hang out with Jesus for a few years and then wake up to throat-punch her all the way back to Hell. 

No movie needs this many jump scares.

A jump scare is a lazy director's way of making a horror movie scary. The music dims, everything goes still, and then BAM! Something terrifying flashes across the screen, a loud sound plays, and the audience collectively shits their pants. It's the Michael Bay explosion of horror movies - it doesn't really add anything to the story, but we know that it's part of the genre and we've come to expect it.

And this, children, is why you always bring spare underwear to a horror movie.

For best results, they should be used sparingly - perhaps three or four times throughout the movie. Five, tops, if you've got a terrible storyline.

I didn't count the jump scares in this movie, but I would be shocked if there was less than twenty.

Every single time there's a quiet moment in this movie - no, seriously, every single time - something pops up to scare you. Whether it's a labmate pulling an obnoxious prank with a pig mask, or Zoe popping up like a God-defiling whack-a-mole, the jump scares in this movie as are predictable as the plot. It took years to churn this thing out, and I suspect that's because the entire first draft of the screenplay was just a childrens' Jack-in-the-Box with Olivia Wilde's face stapled to it.

These are the faces of four actors who wish they'd read the script before they signed up for this nonsense.

From the moment Zoe reveals herself to be an angry, electrocuted Carrie, the entire movie is just a mess of jump scares, deaths and screaming. Most of this film takes place in a lab whose confusing layout of identical chambers is never really established, which means we spend a lot of time watching characters run around in the dark with no idea what direction Zoe might be coming from. Zoe's never-ending grab bag of powers also means that none of these characters stand a chance; at best, the only source of tension is wondering which order the characters will inevitably die in. 

I don't ask a lot from my horror movies, but I do expect that they won't bore me. And when you start to know for a fact that every quiet moment means a jump scare and another death, movies quickly get boring. The only frightening thing about The Lazarus Effect was the fact that, by the end of it, I wanted to shove a needle into the side of my own brain. 


7 comments

  1. Was also curious why the dog never got any jedi powers, the dog also hated her... Probably went to heaven or something... He was staring at her like he knew she was going to hell... then he was barking at her when she came back... And we can't really know for sure what happened to the dog... I was hoping the dog would feature more into the plot...

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  2. Aspiring phycologist asweJuly 25, 2016 at 10:20 PM

    Your article made my day. I love how it's and fun you are in your writing, it makes the article about the movie more fun than the movie. Honestly you are a great writer and this article is hilraious, keep writing!!! Love your work.

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  3. First of all she didn't have gloves on when she flipped the switch. Second this was more about religious crap than psychological. Clearly the movie showed that it wasn't her that came back but a demon. The whole reason why she was bringing them back was to bring back other demons. The whole, hey why bring stuff back because you don't know what you will bring back idea. Keep up the writing because its your dream but try and do a little more research.

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  4. Your review just literally made me lol. I would have never and still will never watch this movie, but your writing made me want to watch the plot through your eyes so I couldn't stop reading. Don't stop doing what you are doing. The anonymous guy who insulted you can suck it because regardless what the movie is about your writing style is hilariously entertaining.

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  5. You clearly did not watch the movie. You are a dumbass. Next time try watching it before you "try" to be a critic. The dumbass who gave you praise on your thoughts of the movies are going to watch the movie, and then realize that they are as dumb as you are.

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  6. The person who said you were a dumbass. My name is Abby Speidel.

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  7. Stick to vampire hunting. That's going to be a better fit for you, or you can always go get a real psychology degree. That might be too much for you considering your blogs are total waste of time. Come on.you didn't even get the characters right with the pictures.

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