Medical researchers Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are working on a project that aims to revive a recently dead body, using a serum they call “Lazarus.” Although they are successful in reviving a dog with the serum, their project is shut down by the company bankrolling it. Undeterred, Frank, Zoe and their team—including civilian videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger)—break into the lab to try the experiment again. Due to a mishap, Zoe ends up electrocuted, and Frank decides to use Lazarus to bring her back. To say that she came back wrong turns out to be a massive understatement, and before you know it, Zoe is going all Dark Phoenix on Frank and his team.
The Lazarus Effect could have used a bit of its own psuedoscientific phlebotinum to add some jolt to itself. The film itself seems like a mad scientist’s assemblage of body parts from other, more effective films, like Flatliners, Event Horizon and even 2014’s Lucy. There’s absolutely nothing new here, and the film’s kitbashed DNA is apparent from the beginning.
Even still, the film is…actually not all that bad. It isn’t scary in the least, but at least it’s mildly amusing. Director David Gelb keeps the camera unpretentious and doesn’t try to hide the film’s thin structure with fancy editing. The film is ridiculously economic in a way that harkens back to low-budget horror films from the late 70s and early 80s. The vast majority of the action takes place in the medical lab, and the last half of the film unfolds almost in real time. There are no truly extraneous plot points or side stories, but neither is there a tremendous amount of character development or explanation of…well, anything really. The film comes off more like an extra-long episode of The Outer Limits than it does a proper feature film.
The cast is just as strangely put together as the film itself. Indie star Duplass is fine as Frank, bringing a simple humanity to the role. Eva serves as an audience surrogate, and Bolger does a lot with what little the script gives her. Evan Peters and Donald Glover round out the team, and while they aren’t spectacular, you can tell they’re at least putting in an effort. And as per usual, Wilde is usually the best thing about any tedious genre film she happens to be in. She has a unique naturalness to her character, and when Zoe goes over to the dark side, it’s clear that Wilde is relishing the chance to play a genuine Bad Girl.
While it doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary for a horror film unceremoniously dropped into a February release date, it’s not all that bad, and its 82-minute run time (including credits) ensures that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, it never answers the most important question: how did this film get a theatrical release and not go straight to DVD? Truly, some things man was not meant to know.
FBOTU Score: 5 out of 10 / C