“The Lazarus Effect” is what happens when hip, smart actors commit themselves to a horror movie, body and soul.
Mark Duplass (“Safety Not Guaranteed”), a mainstay of indie cinema’s microbudget “mumblecore” movement, and recent convert Olivia Wilde (“Drinking Buddies”) ably play a scientist couple whose work has led to a serum that brings the dead back to life. And with director David “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” Gelb in charge, you can be sure this isn’t some brain-munching zombie apocalypse.
“Lazurus” is a lean and unfussy horror tale built on sharply-drawn characters and spare, uncluttered dialogue.
What the scientists and their team (Donald Glover, EvanPeters, and as their new intern-videographer, 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, an intense and well-trained canine actor, rises from the operating table. Success! Let’s take him home!
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.
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 lab, his experiments and his dilemma. Should man play God?
An 82-minute movie shouldn’t have space in it to touch on the afterlife, faith (Zoe is a Catholic near-believer) and guilt. But “The Lazarus Effect” does.
There’s no point in overselling a conventional, rarely surprising horror picture, a 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’
C+ CAST: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover, Ray Wise.
DIRECTOR: David Gelb.
WRITERS: Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater.
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes.
RATING: PG-13 (intense sequences of horror violence, terror and some sexual references).