First-time feature director David Gelb tries to create lively scares out of the bringing-back-the-dead film genre with “The Lazarus Effect.” The best he gets are a few nervous twitches.
His feature has little more substance than a cable sci-fi movie that starts with a decent idea but gets jumbled by so many predictable and worn out tropes — the evil of big business, the sins of playing God, the wackiness of quirky scientists, the danger of an evil canine — that by the time the closing credits come 83 minutes later (and it will seem much longer) the finale is a mangled mess so convoluted the only thing Gelb could do was just stop the film.
It was easy to stop as nothing really good had ever gotten started.
The nugget of an idea at the core of “The Lazarus Effect” is that a group of scientists have found a formula to restart the recently departed. Their experiments with a pig and a dog appear to have worked, although the canine ends up acting like a cousin to Cujo. What’s one demonic dog when there are discoveries to be made?
Before they can reveal their work to the world, an evil drug company swoops in and takes all of their research. This comes on top of the university — where they had been conducting the unsanctioned experiments — shutting down their operation.
The life-giving group — led by the bland Frank (Mark Duplass) and his too-good-for-him fiancée, Zoe (Olivia Wilde) — convince the rest of the team (Donald Glover, Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger) they should try one more time to revive a dead dog, capture the work on video and show the world they are the ones who created the formula.
This all goes bad when Zoe is electrocuted. Out goes the dead dog and the deceased scientist gets the formula. She comes back but Zoe returns with some demonic tendencies — partly connected to a dream she’s been having — she didn’t have before her death.
The film might have been scary if everything about this production wasn’t played at such a middle of the terror road level. The lab is the only set. The potential victims are limited and eliminated in very safe PG-13 ways. The pacing is one step faster than a funeral march.
The only tense moments are waiting for the lights to flicker and Zoe popping up a few feet away. That gimmick becomes so predictable, the scares fade as fast as the plot.
It fell to Wilde to play the villain of this piece and she just doesn’t come across as either wicked or insane enough to create chills and thrills. Instead of an evil stare, most of the time she looks like she’s either trying to hold back a sneeze or some other bodily function.
Writers Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater get the film off to a slow start with all of the early experiments. The lack of anything original to have the characters do forces them to resort to elements so familiar to the horror genre there are no surprises.
Toss in their inability to create a proper storyline and the movie ends up being like Frankenstein’s monster before the lightning shock — it’s a lot of pieces sewn together that are lifeless.