The Lazarus Effect is what happens when hip, smart actors commit themselves—body and soul—to a horror movie.
Mark Duplass, a mainstay of indie cinemas microbudget “mumblecore” movement, and recent convert Olivia Wilde ably play a scientist couple whose work has led to a serum that brings the dead back to life. And with director David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) in charge, you can be sure this isn’t some brain-munching zombie apocalypse.
What the scientists and their team (Donald Glover, Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger) are trying to do is “give doctors time,” create a bigger window for coma patients and those whose hearts have stopped to be resuscitated before brain damage sets in.
In extreme, blurred close-ups, Gelb captures early experiments in which a twitch of life is seen in this pig or that dog. Then, Rocky, a well-trained canine actor, rises from the operating table. Success! Let’s take him home!
“Are you sure you want to keep this in your house?” someone asks. “This thing could go Cujo on you in a hurry!”
They ignore that. Not bothering with the rules is kind of the M.O. for Frank (Duplass).
Next thing they know, Big Pharma has swooped in on their university lab and seized everything. But if they can replicate their discovery in a late-night session, maybe they’ll get the credit after all.
When you’re rushed, you’re careless. And when you’re careless around high voltage, you’re asking for an electrocution.
“I thought I lost you,” Frank whispers to his love.
“Yeah, you did.”
“But I didn’t.”
Zoe is dead, then revived. And that’s when things turn deadly and a long night turns into a nightmare.
You don’t have to be a mere mortal male to find the gorgeous and intense Wilde scary, and she amps up the terror. Gelb zeroes in on her stare and keeps his camera close, reinventing visual tropes as old as the first ghost story, as familiar as Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments and his dilemma. Should man play God?
An 83-minute movie shouldn’t have space in it to touch on the afterlife, faith and guilt. But The Lazarus Effect does.
There’s no point in overselling a conventional, rarely surprising horror picture that manages one good, cheap jolt and a solid hour of dread. But Lazarus reminds us that a genre overwhelmed by junk fare doesn’t need to be that way. It’s not effects, gore or novelty that matter. It’s all in the execution—and electrocution.
The Lazarus Effect (PG-13): ★★★✩✩