The makers of The Lazarus Effect, an uninspired horror film about modern-day mad scientists, do nothing noteworthy with their heady what-if premise: What do you see right before you die, and what would happen if you came back from the dead?
Screenwriters Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater ask and mostly answer those promising central questions within their film’s first 40 minutes. At that point, The Lazarus Effect ditches its ambitions as a Frankenstein-like warning about gnostic hubris and becomes a quarter-assed slasher film starring Olivia Wilde as an undead psychic murderer who flies around and crushes things with her mind.
Wilde plays Zoe, an ironically named scientist (“Zoe” is Greek for “life”!) who gets resurrected via a death-defying experimental serum she created with husband Frank (Mark Duplass) and fellow researchers Clay (American Horror Story‘s Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover). After Zoe’s accidentally killed, Frank uses the serum to revive her, in the process forcing her to remember her last moments.
The spiritual implications of Zoe’s revival are explicitly spelled out in two scenes of blocky expository dialogue: Catholic Zoe thinks she’s been to Hell and back while atheist Frank thinks she just hallucinated a near-death experience.
Sadly, Zoe and Frank’s conflict never advances beyond lame, pseudo-mysterious flashbacks and a lot of poorly lit, extreme-close-up-heavy confrontations with a super-powered Zoe. These chase-and-kill scenes are equally unimaginative and murky-looking. But none of them is as scary as the film’s final beat — the suggestion that there might be a sequel. Death may not be the end in The Lazarus Effect, but it should be.