These days, you generally don’t see too many “science gone amok” stories (especially theatrically), which made The Lazarus Effect such a refreshing experience. While it fits perfectly into the wheelhouse of other films I enjoy from that same sub-genre (The Fly, Flatliners, Re-Animator and to a certain degree, Pet Semetery), it does a nice job of blazing its own path along the way. And rather than just exploring the devastatingly immediate effects of pushing the boundaries of science, like many of its predecessors, The Lazarus Effect puts a really interesting twist on the sci-fi/horror mash-up by finding a way to quietly examine the ideals of faith and the repercussions of our actions without ever getting too heavy-handed about it.
In The Lazarus Effect, we meet a research team, headed by Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who have made a recent breakthrough on their Lazarus Serum- a concoction that can bring the dead back to life. Meant to be used as a tool to assist in medical emergencies, Frank, Zoe, and their team start running clinical trials of it on animals in hope of perfecting the drug, a decision that’s against the terms of their funding. The lab is subsequently shut down and, in a last ditch effort to save their work, the team reunites for one last experiment that not only costs Zoe her life, but ultimately has deadly consequences for all after she’s revived via the experimental serum and isn’t quite feeling ‘herself’ after her return.
For a genre first-timer, director David Gelb does an admirable job with The Lazarus Effect. The film’s pacing is tight, the story never lags and once all hell breaks loose, Gelb keeps the tension levels nicely elevated until the finale (a moment that feels like a fun B-movie throwback). That being said, while the scares are effective, I’d say they were pretty mild in the violence department with Gelb leaving some of the more dire moments in the film to viewers’ imaginations. That may have been due to budgetary constraints but with some of the kills being a bit nasty (the nastiness being implied, that is), I would have loved to see more of them throughout the film’s final two acts.
The performances in The Lazarus Effect are strong across the board. Both Duplass and Wilde are engaging and likeable, sharing a great sense of chemistry between them and do an excellent job of giving the sci-fi story much of the heart it needs in order to make us care about what’s happening to their characters. Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters and Donald Glover (who’s always awesome) also deliver great performances in the film, even if their characters are kind of dismissed in the second half of the film. Often times, these supporting roles can end up being a bit stereotypical but I rather enjoyed the way the trio mixed things up with their characters even if get somewhat lost in the story once Zoe is resurrected.
As far as cautionary tales go, The Lazarus Effect is pretty good stuff overall and effectively rises above its mild approach to deliver a thoughtful and intense horror experience that I had a lot of fun with. It’s probably not going to do much for genre fans looking for something a bit more visceral, but for those of you who appreciate this sci-fi fueled subgenre, there’s a lot of interesting material here to enjoy.
Movie Score: 3/5