It isn’t often you want a bad movie to run longer than it does, but such is the case with the slight horror flick The Lazarus Effect, which stars Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass as scientists whose development of a serum that resuscitates the dead leads to terrifying consequences. The film, which runs a scant 83 minutes (and that includes the opening and closing credits), feels like it’s just getting going when it abruptly ends. It’s enough to make a moviegoer wonder whether the filmmakers ran out of money or just ideas.
The premise is promising enough. Medical researchers Zoe (Wilde) and Frank (Duplass) work to produce a serum they hope will bring back patients who have flatlined on operating tables. They initially experiment on dead pigs and dogs, but without success; then, during one attempt, a deceased dog suddenly roars to life after being injected with the serum and jolted with an electrical current. The only problem is that the canine’s side effects include hyper brain activity and super aggression.
That aside, everything is looking up for the pair and their trio of assistants (Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger), until the company that funded the project is sold and the new corporation confiscates their research. Fearing all of their work has been in vain, the quintet break into the lab to replicate their experiment with a dose of serum that wasn’t discovered. Tragically, Zoe is electrocuted during the process and dies. Frank, of course, uses the serum to bring Zoe back to life. But the Zoe who returns isn’t herself and says, “I think something’s wrong.” It sure is. The revived Zoe is evil, possesses supernatural abilities, and wreaks havoc on everyone around her.
Unfortunately, this solid setup quickly devolves into a series of clichéd jolts, unbelievable behavior, and unanswered questions. Screenwriters Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater borrow liberally from the horror cannon: There’s a dash of Carrie, a pinch of The Shining, a dollop of Pet Sematary, and a heaping spoonful of Flatliners. There isn’t an original concept onscreen. Worse, just when Zoe goes all Carrie White on her friends, the movie speeds to an unresolved conclusion that will undoubtedly leave viewers uttering, “What? That’s it?”
The Lazarus Effect’s redeeming factor is its game cast. Wilde looks like she’s having great fun playing the demented Zoe, who is by far the film’s most complex and developed character, and Duplass is equally good spewing nonsensical medical jargon, which makes the movie sound smarter than it actually is. Glover, Peters, and Bolger lend fine support, and a cameo by Ray Wise, who memorably played the Devil on Reaper, adds a nice touch of nastiness to the proceedings.
The Lazarus Effect cost just five million dollars to make, and will likely gross twice as much or more on its opening weekend. It hails from Blumhouse, the production company behind such low-budget fare as Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and The Purge, and that means a sequel to this half-baked horror show is probably already in the works. If so, here’s hoping the producers can coax Wilde and Duplass to return so they can resurrect a story that feels like it’s just coming to life when the lights come up.