Young director David Gelb has taken a sharp turn from his popular documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a heartwarming tale about an 85-year-old sushi chef and his son. As the newest film in a long line of resurrection horror movies, “The Lazarus Effect” is far different from Gelb’s earlier projects. With a great cast and an interesting psychological twist, the film is decently frightening and plenty exciting to watch. With a run time of only 83 minutes, this new twist on a classic horror is both short and scary enough to be creepily enjoyable.
The plot is centered on a group of medical students researching a way to bring people back from the dead. The students, played by Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Sarah Bloger and Evan Peters, are secretly conducting research on the Lazarus serum, which is capable of reanimating the dead. The serum’s name alludes to the biblical miracle of Saint Lazarus, whom Jesus restored to life. The scientists succeed in bringing a dog back to life, but when they attempt to recreate their experiment a second time, a freak accident ends up killing Zoe (Olivia Wilde). Her fiancé (Mark Duplass), in a desperate attempt to save her life, injects Zoe with the Lazarus serum, and the students soon discover that they have made a terrible mistake.
As in most horror films, the plot from this point on gets a bit hazy. Zoe is obviously not her normal self and has, in fact, become some kind of bloodthirsty, telepathic demon, bent on murdering all of her friends. There is mention that she was trapped in hell while she was dead, and now that she is back she can use 100 percent of her brain rather than the normal 10 percent. It is not clear what the exact reason is for her transformation, but despite that, the demonized Olivia Wilde is downright terrifying and the psychological trauma she evokes for the next hour makes up for the film’s plot holes.
The rest of the cast is also endearingly impressive, featuring beloved actors like Evan Peters from “American Horror Story” and Donald Glover from “Community.” The entire cast was extremely capable, providing compelling character conflict and skillfully exhibiting an appropriate level of inner turmoil. Yet Olivia Wilde is especially memorable for her wide array of chilling facial expressions and her creepily possessed aura.
The film relies on many of the expected and overused cliches of its genre, like the classic black demon eyeballs as well as a scene where the other characters are being chased by demon Zoe beneath flickering lights, allowing only glimpses of her terrifying, grotesque figure directly behind the protagonists. While some may roll their eyes at these scenes, there are also classic pop-out moments that made the whole audience involuntarily jump out of their seats. These startling scenes are combined with spine-chilling shots of the lab’s morgue that are enough to make you shudder and turn away. Despite the obvious cliches, these features do add to the general fear factor of the film.
“The Lazarus Effect” also provides an interesting twist to the resurrection classic. In previous films, the resurrections always end with people “changing” after they’ve been dead and coming back as murderous monsters. “The Lazarus Effect” is no exception, as it follows the same premise, however, it does try and include a deeper scientific aspect. At the start of the film, there is an interesting dialogue between Zoe and her fiance about the relationship between science and religion with regards to death. They use the familiar concept of “the white light at the end of the tunnel” to get into an argument about whether or not this is indeed the afterlife or just the brain’s reaction to death. This commentary gives the film a modern feel and adds an element of scientific uncertainty to the already suspenseful picture.
The film’s musical score, composed by Sarah Schachner, is an impressive embellishment to the film’s terrifying plot. Schachner is known for the music she composed for the video game “Assassin’s Creed: Unity.” Her previous experience shows in the music of “Lazarus,” as it provides a sufficiently chilling backdrop to the most suspenseful scenes of the film, while also adding an extra layer of terror during the film’s most horrifying scenes.
While “The Lazarus Effect” has its faults, it is overall a decent horror film. This film will leave you shaken and will probably give you nightmares, making it a success as far as horror movies are concerned.