Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Lazarus Effect

Directed by: David Gelb

Produced by: Jason Blum
Luke Dawson
Matt Kaplan
Jimmy Miller
Cody Zweig

Screenplay by: Luke Dawson
Jeremy Slater

Starring: Mark Duplass
Olivia Wilde
Donald Glover
Evan Peters
Sarah Bolger
Ray Wise

Music by: Sarah Schachner

Cinematography by: Michael Fimognari

Editing by: Michael N. Knue

Studio: Blumhouse Productions

Distributed by: Relativity Media

Release date (s): February 27, 2015 (United States)
October 19, 2015 (United Kingdom, DVD and Blu-Ray premiere)

Running time: 83 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $3.3 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $64, 110, 728

As you can see, I've been rather slow on this side of things. I'm at an all-time low as regards to the actual numbers, having managed only fifteen at the end of November. I have had one hell of a busy year, and as such haven't been able to dedicate as much time as I want to the blog. I'm literally having to plan my days out now, what with all my different interests outside of this. However, I will see that I keep at it. I've a roundup review for the interim period to follow this one, and for the September-October-November period (I know, terrible) I have reviews for Everest, John Wick, The Death And Resurrection Show, The Lobster, The Human Centipede 3: Full Sequence, Criminal Activities and Black Mass on the way. Also, to start off December I will be seeing the much-lauded Carol, and somewhere down the line I can guarantee that The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, Far From The Madding Crowd, The Look Of Silence (hello to Joshua Oppenheimer) and more will be looked at. So, for all the latest and greatest, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film up for review is The Lazarus Effect, described on Wikipedia as a "supernatural science fiction horror film." Wow, I didn't even know that supernatural science fiction horror was considered in itself a subgenre. Anywho, the film itself received largely negative reviews, but managed to make a not insignificant sum of over $60 million off of a small $3 million budget, so a very profitable film indeed. This is much in line with the formula that Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions have established, most of the films under that banner being in and around the $5 million range and pushed heavily in marketing so that even if they aren't hitting Paranormal Activity or Insidious numbers, they're still highly profitable. So, with The Lazarus Effect, medical researchers Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who are engaged to one another, have developed a serum going by the codename of 'Lazarus.' Intended to assist coma patients, it is however shown to be able to bring the dead back to life. With the assistance of their friends on the team, the run a successful trial on a dog. However, the dog behaves differently, its cataracts disappear, it has no appetite and demonstrates other strange abilities. When the dean of university funding the project finds out about their underground experiments, he shuts down the project, but not without them attempting to duplicate their previous success. In the process, Zoe is fatally electrocuted, and becomes the first human guinea pig. She is resurrected, but it is clear to the team that something is wrong with Zoe. Got it? Good!

Starting off with the good, I have to clear it off the table, I like Olivia Wilde's jawline. I'm sorry, I know it's not exactly the best way to start a legitimate critique of a film, but the bone structure from her cheeks to her chin is a painter's dream. It's a face with real character, and at the very least when I was bored I could at least study her face. Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, let's go. Some part of the first act of the film are creepy. I like the way that it's a slow tease and doesn't just go straight in for the gullet. You know that that there is something quite clearly screwed up about the dog, and at the best of times the film can be legitimately menacing. Also the central concept may have been done before, but it is initially intriguing. In much the same way that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (to which I think the film owes a massive debt) intrigued audiences with it's fusion of Gothic and science-fiction, you're dealing with universal themes, one of the greatest 'what-ifs?'; can we beat death? There's also the idea of us, through science and technological advancement, overstepping our bounds. Should we or shouldn't we appease our inherent curiosity? There's also a fair amount of material in there suggested about the character of Zoe's childhood trauma, and how this affects her over the course of the film. These kinds of questions are posed throughout the film. 

That's all I can say really of note about this film as regards qualities. It's not as outrageously bad a film as some of those that I have seen over the years, but don't count that as a glowing recommendation either. After the first act, for all of the short running time, it's a slow, ponderous mess, any nuance or niche the film might have degenerating into the usual jump-scares, 'inventive' kills and plot turns. The script is overly-plotted, in that it is designed purposefully to keep us on our toes by attempting to swerve our expectations about where it is going to go. The thing is is that you can only get away with swerves and twists so many times before the audience becomes emotionally attuned to them and sees them coming a mile away. It's the law of diminishing returns, each turn losing effect every time they do it. Also, none of the characters in the film, bar Olivia Wilde's Zoe, are thoroughly fleshed out. Mark Duplass does his best to hold up the film as the protagonist, but it's damn near impossible to something like that when, to use a Clive Barker-esque metaphor, you have a concrete block dangling from hooks embedded in your block. None of the other characters seem to exist to do anything other than fill up some empty space, say a couple of bad lines, and die in a slightly memorable fashion. Technically too it's an ugly enough film. A lot of what is happening onscreen is badly lit. I don't just mean using shadows and low-lights, I mean just badly, as in I can't see much of what is happening and what I can see looks ugly. Just because it's a horror film doesn't mean it can't be beautiful. Look at older films like Eyes Without A Face, Rosemary's Baby, Suspiria and The Shining, or more recent films such as Audition, Byzantium or Guillermo del Toros's ouevre, there's no reason why a horror film shouldn't be shot to look good. Films with darker lighting like The Exorcist or even the turgid grunginess of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can keep us visually engaged. Furthermore, I'd like to make a point here, why is it that for every single jump-scare in these films they have to do away with any semblance of aural ambience and crank the volume up to the bloody hilt? If you've done a good enough job at getting me engaged, I will generally react with shock at something you want to be shocking, regardless of the volume. It's such a cheap trick, because most of the time people have a default physical reaction to loud noises which comes from the jolt to our cerebral senses, be it shock, laughter, fear, joy (don't know so much about joy, but you get the point) etc. It's like having someone coming up and yelling in your ear; of course you're going to react to that! It's such a shame that after the first act everyone just seemed to give up reduce themselves to the old parlour tricks. Blumhouse Productions should be admired for their round-the-clock production schedule and marketing drive, and has been responsible for some of the most entertaining and legitimately scary low-budget horror films of the past five or six years; the first Paranormal Activity and last year's best horror film in the opinion of your not-so humble narrator, Oculus, came under the Blumhouse banner, and I have a begrudging fondness for The Purge films, so I know the quality is there. Also, if they can put out films like Whiplash, I know that they can invest in low-budget productions that have a standard of excellence. The Lazarus Effect is nowhere near the quality of film to befit said term.

To give The Lazarus Effect its due, the first act is relatively interesting and suspenseful, establishing the thematic content of the story and doing what should have happened for the rest of the film, slow burn to build suspense. At the best of times, in that first act it can be very creepy and at the worst of times we have Olivia Wilde's jawline to study. However, most of what is good about the film is gone within the first twenty-thirty minutes, as it reduces itself to the same old rudimentary parlour tricks of bad lighting, jump scares accompanied by excessive volume, characters who live to die, and an abundance of plot twists and swerves which abide by the law of diminishing returns. Not excessively bad, just boring and dull as ditchwater.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Insulted (David Cameron has decided anyone who is against airstrike-bombing Syria is a "terrorist sympathiser." I might as well have been declared 'enemy of the state.'

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