When it comes to horror movies, finding something original to say is one of the more difficult tasks a filmmaking team can face, just ask horror producer extraordinaire Jason Blum. Sure, his The Lazarus Effect has shades of Flatliners, but it’s been decades since that film, and this bringing back the dead horror story delves deeper and will surely have people talking about the subject matter when the credits close.
Mark Duplass stars as Frank, and he and his fiance Zoe (Olivia Wilde) work together in a university lab where they are pushing the boundaries of science (and maybe ethics). Their serum, called Lazarus, could potentially give doctors additional minutes when treating someone who is close to death. They have the most noble of intentions, but the experiments suddenly take a much more sinister turn.
As teased in The Lazarus Effect trailer, the team (which includes Donald Glover and Evan Peters, Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past) has some initial success in resuscitating a dog. Completely undeterred by the canine’s bizarre behavior, they proceed with a second experiment, only Zoe gets electrocuted and perishes. Frank swings into action and gives her the serum… and she wakes up.
Yeah, she’s not the same.
Director David Gelb makes a smashing debut with his first narrative feature and it’s easy to see that the man knows how to build the scares from his years cutting trailers. He pulls the most emotionally powerful aspects out of Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater’s script and, more importantly, he gets the most out of his actors. That fact is so important in a film like this. Gelb also triumphs by avoiding cliches and gives us a totally creepy, riveting and original scare-fest.
What else stands out is this slickly produced horror vehicle manages to raise some questions about life and death and life after death. Both Frank and Zoe sit on different sides of the fence on the issue and it’s fascinating to see a discussion (clearly before she “dies”) where a person of science (Zoe) can say that she believes there’s more to the afterlife than simply ceasing to exist.
Her partner does not see such things -- perhaps that’s why it is so shocking that he takes such drastic measures to bring her back to life. He says he was not ready to let go yet, but maybe the great beyond was not somewhere Frank was ready to let Zoe visit?
Duplass and Wilde make quite a pair, but it is the latter that truly brings the haunting to this terrifying tale. She digs deep and delivers an original and riveting performance. What Wilde shows us as Zoe from the great beyond, is not very pretty.
Our The Lazarus Effect review believes the film as a whole takes the Flatliners premise and goes the distance.