Tag Archives: Donald Glover

Science, Religion, and Horror — “The Lazarus Effect”

Lazarus Effect 1

by Gabriel Valdez

Horror movies are a little weird. We don’t always watch horror looking for good cinema, we watch it for effective scares. Some truly bad movies still have the ability to scare us.

The Lazarus Effect is very effective some of the time, but it’s interrupted by ferocious bouts of quirkiness. And not the good kind. Scientists are playing god by attempting to bring dead animals back to life. Inevitably, there’s an accidental death that forces our heroes to bring a human (Olivia Wilde) back to life instead. The only problem is that a few minutes of death here equals years and years in Hell. Also, Hell lends you superpowers for reasons nobody ever figures out.

There are some major issues in the shot choices and editing, which are both crucial in creating mood and rhythm for your scares to inhabit. Lazarus relies almost entirely on jump scares, where something jumps at a character from off-screen accompanied by a loud noise.

This means we can’t anticipate the scares, but we can predict them. Anticipation means we know they’re coming, we just can’t be sure of when. There’s a nervousness to anticipation. Often it happens when the audience sees something the characters can’t. Lazarus has no anticipation.

Prediction means we could time every scare’s arrival on a stopwatch. Predictable scares can still be frightening, but they don’t hold the same power in our psyche. They can make us jump, but they can’t lurk in the back of our minds and send chills up our spines. Lazarus can scare you, sure, but it won’t get inside your head.

Lazarus Effect 2

Wilde does make up for a lot of this. She is extraordinarily good in a role that requires her to play across the board – she can recite the technical babble behind her experiment like she’s on another episode of House, but there’s a later sequence in which she changes personalities depending on who’s in the room with her. She shines in these moments and gives us the only character who really feels like she belongs in that lab.

Unfortunately, and I hate to drag an actor out like this, Mark Duplass is awful. He plays the experiment’s co-leader and Wilde’s boyfriend. He’s been good in a lot of indie comedies, especially Safety Not Guaranteed, but he makes some very bad choices here. The interplay between Wilde and Duplass should create the dynamic of two scientists jousting over ideas (she believes in an afterlife, he doesn’t) and uncomfortably struggling to fit their philosophical disagreements into their more intimate relationship. Instead, it comes across as two actors hauling the quality of the movie in two very different directions. The rest of the cast – including comedian/rap artist Donald Glover – is charming, but isn’t the best fit for this film.

Lazarus is PG-13, rare for horror. There’s a hint of body horror and some trickles of blood but Lazarus uses some visual shortcuts to imply what you’ve seen in gorier horror movies. Honestly, I hardly noticed the absence – the best horror is built on psychology, not blood. It means that Lazarus relies more on its ideas, and these do become more frightening as we grasp the broader religious and scientific ideas at play.

Lazarus Effect glide

This creates a vicious cycle: a great horror idea gets you excited, but you’re disappointed by its failed execution. Wilde saves the moment through sheer acting willpower, and Duplass sabotages it by making all the wrong choices. This is saved by another great horror idea, but it’s executed badly and so on and so on.

It’s like a football game where whoever gets the ball last wins. Thankfully, we see Wilde more than Duplass, and the movie’s final twist adds a terrific motive to violence that earlier seemed a bit senseless. Home team wins.

Lazarus is a combination of great ideas, predictable yet effective jump scares, and a very out-of-place cast relying on Wilde as the only glue that holds it all together. We invented an award here recently called Most Thankless Role – it’s for actors who do great work in B-movies. I have a feeling Wilde’s going to contend this year.

The Lazarus Effect might only be a pond in the desert that is horror filmmaking right now, but that still makes it feel like an oasis worth visiting. It didn’t scare me as much as I would have liked, but its story felt rewarding.

If you’re looking for a better version of Lazarus, consider Flatliners, an often forgotten horror gem from 1990 that brought together Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does The Lazarus Effect have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Olivia Wilde plays the lead researcher Zoe and Sarah Bolger plays videographer Eva. There’s also a university president played by Amy Aquino and a little girl played by Emily Kelavos.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a woman?

Yes. Horror is one of the only genres to regularly pass the Bechdel Test with ease. Zoe and Eva talk to each other as often as any of the men do, and it’s always about science, religion, or the crazy horror shenanigans going on around them. They’re also the two most proactive characters in the whole movie.

There’s actually not a whole lot to say about it beyond this. Lazarus is cut to the bone as a movie – it’s only 83 minutes long – so there’s not a whole lot to analyze here. In terms of capability and agency, it presents a positive portrayal of women.

Let’s Cast! The “Myst” TV Series

Myst lead 2

Last night, we got a few of our writers on e-mail to talk about news that Myst, a 1993 adventure game that pioneered such shocking new technologies as the CD-ROM and Quicktime, will become a TV show. We tossed around what we’d like to see in the show and cast it up.

Gabriel: Joining me are our creative director Vanessa Tottle, editor Eden O’Nuallain, and contributor Himura Sachiko. So, they’re making Myst into a TV series, or an interactive series, or some kind of toasty grilled sandwich. What do we each want to see in a Myst TV series?

Vanessa: I want silence. The genre Myst belongs to is different from every other form of gaming because it is about a player’s interior experience. There is no dialogue, there is nothing to shoot with a gun. Now and again, one flips a switch or climbs a staircase. It’s about discovery and making mental connections.

Eden: I’d rather see a Riven TV series.

Sachiko: Everyone plays Myst differently. I liked to go back and forth between the different Ages and treat Myst Island like a home base. Like I progressed a little in every Age, but went home every night to the creepy library on my lonely island.

Gabriel: My biggest fear is that they’ll allow a group dynamic. You know, instead of one person being lost on Myst and its adjoining worlds, it’ll be a bunch of 30 year-olds playing teenagers, wearing fashionable shit, wondering why their cell phones don’t work, and out-bantering each other in the wilds of British Columbia.

Myst Donald Glover Childish Gambino

THE LEAD ACTOR

Gabriel: Let’s assume they preserve the solo journey. Who do we want to see play our protagonist? I mean, the obvious answer is Robert Redford, but pick someone they could actually get to do it.

Vanessa: Sachiko played Myst like I played Skyrim. Cower in the pubs at night. Someone I don’t like. Adam Driver from Girls. I want a good actor, but I don’t want to identify with him. Any accessible character will make me miss my interior experience. I want to see a jackass who has trouble with life figure out this place in a way I never would. That way I can yell at him. I want to be smarter than the main character.

Eden: This whole idea is really bad, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining: Bruce Campbell.

Sachiko: Noah Wyle or Jewel Staite, then make it for children. Viewers are more forgiving that way. Look at Doctor Who.

Vanessa: Wait no! Donald Glover. I officially change my vote to Donald Glover.

Gabriel: Childish Gambino himself…Stephanie Leonidas would be interesting. She already did it in Mirrormask, which was basically Neil Gaiman Jazzpunk Myst. She’s accessible, and could lend the proceedings a little awe and wonder. Ultimately, I’d go with Michelle Ryan, though, because nothing prepares you for Myst like EastEnders and Bionic Woman. Really it’s because I think she’s a good facial actor who could pull off a mostly silent series about discovery. Which we won’t get, but we’re pretending we will. For some reason, I also picture Tim Russ (from Star Trek: Voyager) wandering Myst Island. But, you know, with a tricorder.

Eden: If I have to be serious, Anthony Stewart Head.

Myst Matt Smith

AVOID AT ALL COSTS

Gabriel: Who would we never want to see headline this?

Vanessa: Star Trek? You’re such a nerd. Chris Hemsworth. Eliza Dushku. James Deen.

Eden: Same answer: Bruce Campbell.

Sachiko: Matt Smith.

Gabriel: Yeah, I’m sooo sorry I nerded up our conversation about Myst with Star Trek there. Alexis Bledel for me. OK, let’s cast this thing up, shall we? Atrus the father, and his two sons, Sirrus and Achenar. Sirrus was the thin one with the dastardly facial hair, and Achenar was the jovial, unkempt one. Who plays them? Keep in mind this is probably a budget series. You can use real money on only one of them.

Eden: I like Matt Smith, but I see your point.

Myst David Bowie

THE ENSEMBLE

Sachiko: Atrus is Derek Jacobi. Jeremy Davies is Sirrus. Jack Black is Achenar.

Vanessa: I remember Sirrus the best. Throw all your money at Guy Pearce. Achenar? Simon Lane from the Yogscast. I will steal Anthony Stewart Head for Atrus.

Eden: Atrus – David Bowie (real money); Sirrus – Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice; Achenar – Aidan Turner from The Hobbit.

Gabriel: I think Vanessa just won with her Guy Pearce-Simon Lane combination, but for me: Atrus is Keith Allen. Sirrus is Lucy Griffiths. It’s a BBC Robin Hood mini-reunion. Achenar is Mark Addy. Yeah, that’s right, I went all the way back to The Full Monty. Save your money so you can hire Tarsem Singh to produce it, just so I can see what he does with the Stoneship Age.

Myst Bryan Cranston

THE ENDING

Gabriel: Ideally, how would you have the show end?

Vanessa: Five seasons later, the biggest show ever made, filmed on seven continents, which is the same number of dialogue lines per season. Simon Lane wins an Emmy.

Eden: Canceled after two episodes. Jon Stewart makes a single allusion to it on Daily Show. No one gets it. David Bowie writes three soundtracks for it.

Sachiko: Noah Wyle comes home but he misses all the amazing things he has seen.

Gabriel: Michelle Ryan becomes the protector of a thousand Ages. Bryan Cranston portrays Gehn in a spinoff series that covers the novels.

Vanessa: You finally named someone outside obscure British TV! I’m so proud!

Gabriel: Thank you, Britain couldn’t survive without BBC Wales – am I the only one who cast women?

Sachiko: Jewel Staite!

Vanessa: This was fun.

THE FINAL CASTS

Myst Donald Glover 2

Vanessa’s Myst
Protagonist – Donald Glover
Atrus – Anthony Stewart Head
Sirrus – Guy Pearce
Achenar – Simon Lane

Myst Anthony Stewart Head

Eden’s Myst
Protagonist – Anthony Stewart Head
Atrus – David Bowie
Sirrus – Jeffrey Donovan
Achenar – Aidan Turner

Myst Noah Wyle

Sachiko’s Myst
Protagonist – Noah Wyle/Jewel Staite
Atrus – Derek Jacobi
Sirrus – Jeremy Davies
Achenar – Jack Black

Myst Michelle Ryan

Gabe’s Myst
Protagonist – Michelle Ryan
Atrus – Keith Allen
Sirrus – Lucy Griffiths
Achenar – Mark Addy

Well, that wasn’t a complete disaster. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we hope you enjoy it.