Tag Archives: Flatliners

Lazy Lazarus

The Lazarus Effect

by Hope Madden

Four years ago filmmaker David Gelb directed the lovely, layered, joyous documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This weekend we see his newest effort, The Lazarus Effect. What the hell happened?

Gelb abandons novelty and nuance for a by-the-numbers Frankenstein horror. Medical researchers work on a cure for death. Big Pharm is looking to steal their ideas for nefarious gain. Think Splice.

The scientists test their process on animal subjects, but make the leap to human trials a tad prematurely when one of the team-Zoe (Olivia Wilde) – is electrocuted. Things do not go well. Think Pet Sematary.

The serum super-powers Zoe’s brain. Think Lucy.

But Zoe may have been brought back from hell, and may have brought some of hell back with her. Think Event Horizon. Or Flatliners.

It appears screenwriters Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater have seen enough movies to be able to cobble together plenty of stale ideas to fill 83 minutes, although you will swear the film runs two full hours.

Part of the problem is the blandness of the set. For most of the running time we’re trapped in the hospital’s sub-basement with the doomed scientists. This should create anxiety, develop claustrophobic dread, but the dull set and uninspired direction do little but breed tedium.

Gelb can generate tension now and again, but he doesn’t know how to deliver the payoff. The film is so paint-by-numbers – from the greedy chemical company to the dream sequence, from the dog to the unrequited love to the twist ending – there’s nary a surprise to be found.

Wilde and cast (Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger and Donald Glover) can’t bring depth to their characters, though Wilde does give it a shot. There’s more to Zoe than what’s on the page, but not nearly enough to keep the film interesting.

There are plenty of awful horror movies, and The Lazarus Effect is not one of them. It’s succinct, tidy, offers a jolt or two, and it’s held together workmanlike-fashion with enough logic and borrowed ideas to remain lucid for as long as it needs to. But horror also has some great films to offer, and this is certainly not one of those. It’s a disposable February flick and a genuine disappointment from Gelb.


A Tight Squeeze

As Above, So Below

by Hope Madden

A friend of mine went to Paris for her honeymoon, convincing her husband to tour the catacombs beneath the city while there. It’s a creepy, claustrophobic destination for most anyone. He’s uninterested in the macabre, and he’s 6’4”. It was a tight fit.

I thought of him frequently during As Above, So Below because, if there’s one thing the film does effectively, it is tap your claustrophobic dread.

Scarlett, an Indiana Jones type, believes a stone that A) turns any metal into gold, and B) grants eternal life, is hidden beneath Paris. She lures a documentarian, an old boyfriend, and a team of Parisian catacomb explorers to help her finish the quest that killed her father. All told, it’s a weirdly young, attractive, hyper-intelligent group of explorers.

Obviously, co-writer/director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) owes the Jones franchise a pretty big debt. He’s equally indebted to Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror classic The Descent, and he robs here and there from his own Quarantine, the Julia Roberts/Keiffer Sutherland debacle Flatliners, and the Nicolas Cage ridiculousness National Treasure. A weird mix, that, but there are moments when it works.

The one thing Dowdle does well is develop a rising terror of confinement – a knack he proved with Quarantine. He loses his footing when it comes to intermittent scares, and the film just doesn’t build to enough of a climax.

The set up takes too long and there’s not enough terror to distract you from the fairly ludicrous quest underway. The spooky images are few and far between, with Dowdle relying too heavily on the whiz and whir of handheld cameras and distorted sounds to carry the load his imagination couldn’t.

It doesn’t make the film entirely unsatisfying. The claustrophobic among us, in particular, will be put through the ringer. But Dowdle and crew can’t quite piece together enough quality moments to deliver a memorable chiller.