The Lazarus Effect (2015) / Horror-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror and some sexual references
Running time:
83 min.

Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover, Evan Peters
Small role: Ray Wise

Director: David Gelb
Screenplay: Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater

Review published February 28, 2015

What do the films Flatliners, Carrie, Pet Sematary and Lucy have in common?  Basically, they're all movies that The Lazarus Effect will immediately remind you of, and they're all rated R.  The makers of this film seem to be trying to grab the box office dollars of those who are either too young or too squeamish for harder stuff, and who might be seeing this kind of material for the first time.  Unfortunately, for the rest of us, it's everything we've seen before, and better, in films like those and countless others.

The plot involves a team of biomedical research scientists, headed by the long engaged couple Frank (Duplass, The One I Love) and Zoe (Wilde, Better Living Through Chemistry), who have been experimenting on a serum that will help pull comatose patients out of their indefinite slumber, but who take it upon themselves to go a step beyond and use the substance to bring back those who've recently passed away.  Their experiments start on animals -- dead pigs and dogs -- one to success, though they do find that the serum continues to remain in the brain longer than expected, resulting in aggressive and erratic behavior in their subjects. 

When they are unceremoniously told to pack up and leave their research behind, the group decides to document one last experiment to prove what they can do.  However, sloppiness causes a mishap that leaves Zoe electrocuted, and Frank decides he'd rather bring her back with the serum than lose her.  It works, but not she's not quite right, which brings a certain danger to not only them, but the public at large.

Decent actors fill the cast, though without very strong writing to work with. Duplass does a good job making his scientific mumb-jumbo sound like real science, while Olivia Wilde is able to effectively use her exotic beauty to good success in making for a horrific main villain when she ultimately turns "Dark Phoenix".  As with most PG-13 shockers, the frightful moments are merely a collection of jump-scares, reliant on sudden noise and movement to try to unnerve you in your seat.  A bit more suspense would have gone a long way here, and while director David Gelb, whose prior experience had been in the crowd-pleasing documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, has turned in a slick-looking feature for one with such a small budget (reportedly, only $5 mil), it really can't compete with better films out there in terms of quality, while it's too straight-faced in execution to at least give us some choice b-movie thrills.

While it is certainly derivative, the first half of the film does a respectable job setting up the premise, but by the end, the script from Dawson (Shutter) and Slater (Fantastic 4) is merely there to serve up the requisite booga-booga people pay their money for.  My biggest disappointment going into the movie is that it takes an entire hour for the movie to show us something in the plot that we didn't already know from the trailer, and at only 83 minutes including end credits, that's nearly the entire movie.  All we find out is whether the survivors manage to subdue or kill Zoe, or if she manages to do it to them, and by the time we get there, we're not emotionally or intellectually invested enough to care either way, resulting in the kind of flat-line that no Lazarus serum will snap us out of.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo