The Lazarus Effect begins with some medical students trying to resurrect a pig. This is a great use of everyone’s time, you’ll agree. If there’s one thing we don’t have enough of, it’s live pigs. Actually, these students have developed a serum that might lengthen the window of time that doctors can revive a person after he or she is clinically dead. What’s more, where there’s usually brain damage in cases like that, this Lazarus juice keeps the brain sharp. Why, a person brought back to life with this serum might even have extra brain power…
Or at least that’s the idea. The pig stays dead. But you know where this dimly lit, competently made but mostly ineffective quasi-thriller is going. As in all B-movies about mad scientists, it’s only a matter of time before the serum is tested on a human subject. It’s a matter of a LONG time, actually: the movie’s half over before we get there. What happens next is half-baked and not particularly scary, but it’s agreeably mediocre, the sort of middling entertainment that passes the time when you have time that needs passing.
Hey, look, it’s Mark Duplass! You like him! He plays Frank, the leader of this scientific undertaking in a basement laboratory at a California university. His fiancee, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), is part of the team, along with a couple of dudes named Clay (Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover). Plus a new girl, Eva (Sarah Bolger). Zoe wears a crucifix that’s shown in close-up twice early in the movie, indicating that 1) she’s Catholic and 2) since the movie is about death, the subject of hell is going to come up. Frank kids Zoe good-naturedly about the way her spiritual beliefs weigh on her in light of the work they’re doing, what with trying to raise the dead and all. Then the movie basically forgets about religion.
There’s actually a long list of things the movie brings up and then either forgets about or doesn’t get into: a pharmaceutical company trying to take over the experiment (featuring one — ONE! — scene with the great Ray Wise); fears about the project’s secrets being leaked by a spy or mole; Niko’s crush on Zoe and Clay’s crush on Eva; the idea of increased brain function manifesting itself through telekinesis and telepathy. The movie’s only 83 minutes long; I wouldn’t be surprised if the screenplay (credited to Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater) originally had more details, resolution, and payoff. As it stands, it’s scatterbrained and unconvincing.
At any rate, one of these people dies in a lab accident and is hastily reanimated with an injection of hot Lazarus oil. I feel like I shouldn’t tell you which person it is, because like I said, it doesn’t happen till halfway in. But whatever, it’s Zoe, and she comes back … different. Wilde seems to have fun playing Zoe’s varying degrees of ill-defined creepiness, but the plot becomes disappointingly routine before long.
The whole cast’s personal charm and talent are the driving forces behind most of my positive feelings about the movie. It’s underwritten pap, directed with straightforward blandness by David Gelb — but at least it has likable people playing non-irritating characters who aren’t paralyzingly stupid. As cut-rate PG-13 “horror” movies go, this one is harmless.
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