Director: David Gelb
Stars: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover, Evan Peters
Watch The Lazarus Effect online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Directed by acclaimed documentarian David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Chef’s Table), The Lazarus Effect is yet another low-budget horror from the prolific Blumhouse Productions, with a plot that’s basically Frankenstein meets Flatliners.
Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde play engaged scientists Frank and Zoe, who spend their days holed up with a research team – including computer whiz Niko (Glover), stoner researcher Clay (Peters) and intern videographer Ava (Bolger) – in the basement laboratory of a California university, working on a serum that’s meant to prolong the period in which doctors can revive a recently deceased patient. When the team’s latest experiment brings a dog back from the dead, everyone is understandably a little freaked out, particularly when the spooky pooch starts exhibiting strange behaviour.
Things quickly go from bad to worse when Zoe is accidentally electrocuted in a lab accident and Frank makes the impulsive decision to bring her back to life with the serum. At first, Zoe appears to make a complete recovery, but her memories of the whole being-dead-for-a-bit experience are decidedly disturbing and it isn’t long before she’s busting out powers of telekinesis and picking off her fellow team members for no clear reason.
The majority of the performances are frankly better than the film really deserves, with Wilde the stand-out as morally conflicted Zoe, and likeable comic support from Glover and Peters. The exception is Duplass, who wears an expression throughout that suggests he’s fulfilling a contractual obligation and fails to put the emotional effort into his key scenes.
Nonetheless, the first half is enjoyable enough, with a promising, efficiently laid-out set-up, some engaging rapport between the characters and a spot of impressive dog wrangling with their back-from-the-dead canine co-star. The movie’s main problem is the depressingly lazy script, which opts for generic jump-scares and uninspired death scenes (one of the characters gets killed in a cupboard) rather than attempting anything interesting with its premise. It also fails to exploit its own sub-plots, such as Niko’s thinly-veiled crush on Zoe, various tensions within the team, or the fact that the university (headed by Ray Wise, in a token cameo) shuts down their lab and impounds their research.
The Lazarus Effect isn’t without the occasional worthwhile moment, but it’s one of those films where you find yourself making a better version in your head, even as you’re watching it.
Read our interview with David Gelb, discussing his Netflix original series and the move from documentary to horror.
The Lazarus Effect is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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