The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Evil will rise.

Initially completed back in 2013, the supernatural-horror The Lazarus Effect spent a couple of years sitting in an empty ‘laboratory,’ collecting dust, until it was picked up from Lionsgate by Blumhouse Productions in their early days, back when producer Jason Blum was still trying to make a name for himself with hits such as Insidious (2010), Oculus (2013) and the Paranormal Activity (2007-15) series. While nowhere near as scary or innovative as Blumhouse’s other offerings, The Lazarus Effect is still a silly, schlocky PG-13 horror flick that was unfairly savaged by critics when it hit the big screen. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, uses almost every cliché in the book, and feels like a blatant knock-off Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but its impressive pre-fame cast, lean running time and hockey attitude make it an amusing enough ride, albeit instantly forgettable.

A cause for celebration?

The Lazarus Effect takes its cues from a Bible story in the New Testament, in which a man named Lazarus is resurrected by God after being dead for four days. The movie is set in a Berkeley research lab in California and focuses on a bunch of medical researchers who have developed a serum code-named ‘Lazarus’ to help coma patients wake up.

The team consists of head scientists Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), computer guy Niko (Donald Glover) — who’s got a crush on the aforementioned lady researcher — cocky brainiac Clay (Evan Peters), and a newly hired student and videographer named Eva (Sarah Bolger) who’s been brought in to record the trials. The crew is thrilled when they test their serum on a dog and bring it back from the dead, even though the pooch starts behaving differently once revived. It’s only Zoe who has reservations about the experiment, due to her Catholic guilt (she clutches her crucifix here and there), and a cryptic recurring nightmare that she keeps having, where she sees herself in a burning apartment building.

‘Stand back … I’m going to try something.’

When the dean of their university, President Dailey (Amy Aquino), gets wind of their unethical underground trials, she shuts the whole thing down, which results in Frank and Zoe’s life’s work being taken from them. In order to make things right, the team sneaks back into the closed-down lab and attempts to re-create the experiment. Of course, the whole thing goes to shit, and Zoe winds up getting electrocuted to death. Panicked and afraid, Frank convinces the hesitant group that they should use their serum to try and bring his wife-to-be back, despite the fact that they’ve never tested the stuff on a human subject. Thankfully (?) it works, and Zoe is resuscitated but finds herself armed with a bunch of superhero-esque powers (attributed to increased brain power) like telekinesis, mind-reading, et cetera, et cetera. As the night goes on and the team gets locked inside the laboratory, they begin to realize that the newly revived Zoe is much more malevolent than she used to be and not very pleased to be back.

Directed by David Gelb, Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011), The Lazarus Effect is a bit of an odd choice for the filmmaker, who’s spent the bulk of his career making foodie documentaries (we do get some chop-stick action of Olivia Wilde and Donald Glover eating sushi, though). With that said, Gelb does an admirable job in utilizing the script’s single location, which becomes a (bloodless) haunted house of sorts, complete with visions of creepy kids and burning dolls. Moreover, Gleb successfully creates an eerie sense of dread with his lighting/ camera choices, even if his reliance on jump scares to generate frights cheapens the effort.

‘Hang on, haven’t we seen this in Flatliners?’

It’s probably the Frankenstein’s monster of a script by Luke Dawson, Shutter (2008), and Jeremy Slater, Death Note (2017), that lets the show down most. Witters Dawson and Slater borrow bits and pieces from other better sci-fi/ horror flicks like Flatliners (1990), Vincenzo Natali’s little-seen 2009 thriller Splice, and King’s Pet Sematary without adding anything new to the movie’s big unanswered questions regarding life, death, science, and religion — heck, any seasoned viewer should already know that playing God is bad.

Really, it’s the charming cast who holds this thing together and make it an enjoyable sit through. Leading lady Olivia Wilde, TRON: Legacy (2010), does great as scientists Zoe, who’s sorta contemplating whether the spark she once shared with her partner has faded. Wilde manages to be convincing when she’s churning out corny dialogue like, ‘Did I just die?’ and looks to be having a blast when she transforms into a black-eyed demon of sorts (her gruesome make-up is pretty decent, too). Wilde’s co-star Mark Duplass, Creep (2014), isn’t bad either and remains kinda affable throughout, despite being the ‘mad scientist’ of the piece. Donald Glover, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), doesn’t really have much to do, but watching Childish Gambino is always a positive, while Sarah Bolger, The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), looks fab in a tank top and is amiable as the audience surrogate Eva. Look out for Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise, who shows up as the bigwig that’s tasked with shutting Frank and Zoe’s operation down.

‘Let’s hang.’

Look, chances are you’ll probably forget The Lazarus Effect as soon as it’s over, but this isn’t to say that it doesn’t pass the time. Yes, this is basically another one of those generic, science-gone-wrong affairs; nevertheless, it offers just enough freaky-deaky fun to warrant a watch.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Lazarus Effect is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia