Lazarus Effect never truly lives
Like most disposable, second-tier horror cheapies, The Lazarus Effect is a film where its nuggets of goodness float in a sea of trite mediocrity at best. These sorts of films try to give a few good scares before the end credits run, but they do not deliver The Exorcist- or Rosemary's Baby-level quality.
In the case of The Lazarus Effect, the film does have a few strong to middling ideas at play along with consistently excellent cinematography, but none of them ever gels together to create a coherent experience.
The basic plot is a long familiar riff on Mary Shelley's seminal Frankenstein — a small group of research scientists have stumbled on a formula of resurrecting the recently dead. During an experiment one of their number is accidentally killed, and the surviving colleagues bring her back to life with the formula. The ethical consideration of such an act are slightly brushed upon, of course, but soon the resurrected member of the group begins exhibiting bizarre behaviors that would seem to suggest that, not only did she go to hell while dead, she might have brought a bit of hell back with her.
In its own way the film sets up some of its most dramatic shortcomings. It features discussions and debate between scientific and religious viewpoints of the nature of death but never establishes what ultimate viewpoint it's aiming to represent. It seems really intent on suggesting a spiritual danger, but isn't able to sufficiently balance it with its Lucy-esque "future evolution of the human brain" theme. The two themes don't necessarily have to exist in isolation or in conflict with each other, but there's no sufficient meeting ground between the two here.
The film's troubled thematic progression is likely a flaw with the writing in general, because there's certainly plenty of issues with the story.
The characters are also an uninspiring, archetypal lot, ranging from the ambitious to a fault scientific leads to the pining for the woman he can never attain assistant to the grating hip-yet-smartassed early twentysomething. None of them are particularly interesting or well fleshed out save for the resurrected victim of the accident, and by the time the film decides to start making her interesting it's questionable whether or not the character she was remains the character she is.
Thefilm's sole undeniable victory is its cinematography. The sterile, shiny hallways and rooms filled with barely adequate utilitarian lighting really go a long way toward making this world vibrantly realized, and it's a pity the rest of the components hadn't been as highly tuned before the film had been finished.
The Lazarus Effect feels like a film that just couldn't find a way to unify all of the elements it was trying to incorporate storywise before the thing started shooting. There are some good moments and good ideas, but they never gel into a cohesive whole, let alone a satisfying film experience.