Movie review: ‘The Lazarus Effect’ |

Movie review: ‘The Lazarus Effect’

Olivia Wilde appears in a scene from "The Lazarus Effect."
AP | Relativity Media


* * (C)

Directed By David Gelb

Starring Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Donald Glover,

Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger

Rated PG-13, Horror, 83 minutes

“The Lazarus Effect” blurs the line between science fiction and horror, but ultimately the film relies on the supernatural to hammer home its point. The strategy might have worked except that the horror elements are unintentionally funny or worse, just plain silly.

Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and Frank (Mark Duplass) are betrothed team leaders running a university medical research project testing a compound capable of protecting the brain from the effects of oxygen deprivation. Their goal is to provide more time to resuscitate heart attack and accident victims.

Aided by university students Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters), the pair inject a special serum deep into the test subject’s temple, then apply electrical shock in an effort to reanimate dead animals. As they work in a darkened laboratory, the parallels to a similar process used in “Frankenstein” become inescapable.

As luck would have it, on the day after student videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger) arrives to document the team’s efforts, a breakthrough in the serum formula allows them to reanimate a large dog named Rocky. He’s an interesting test subject, being healthy other than the thick cataracts that prompted his owners to have him euthanized. When the experiment succeeds, Zoe notes that Rocky’s cataracts have mysteriously disappeared.

An MRI shows the canine’s brain lit up like a Christmas tree, meaning the serum has stimulated more brain pathways than anyone predicted. Neither Frank nor Zoe are overly concerned that Rocky has no appetite, or that he is otherwise acting strangely.

The next day Zoe is accidentally electrocuted as the team attempts to reanimate another dog, and, after having exhausted conventional efforts to resuscitate his fiance, Frank decides to use the serum to bring Zoe back.

It is from this point on that the film gives up on any intelligent examination of the serum’s effects, now becoming a horror fixated on demonic forces that have hitchhiked a ride on Zoe’s extremely powerful, reanimated brain. Frank has long theorized the brain is flooded with psychotropic chemicals that cause us to see the white light people report following near-death experiences. However, Zoe claims she spent years in hell during the hour or so she was dead.

Apparently unable to control the demon now inside her, Zoe’s eyes turn jet black whenever she is poised to telekinetically throw furniture or people across the room.

Actress Olivia Wilde elects to underplay Zoe’s transformation, an excellent choice that prevents the film from becoming totally unwatchable. Director David Gelb does a nice job of moving the plot and action along at a steady clip but is let down by screenwriters Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, whom repeatedly take Zoe (and those around her) back to a horrific childhood experience that involves a little girl helpless to rescue a family from burning to death in a fire.

The seeds of an intelligent science fiction tale are here, but, because the film settles for horror movie tropes, we are left empty and befuddled. What if humans could use our entire brain at once, rather than a mere 10 percent? If only the writers had used a bit more of theirs, the story might have posed some very interesting questions.

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