A sadly generic film.

by Steve Pulaski

One criminally forgotten and undernourished genre in contemporary cinema is the Hollywood B-movie. Shortly at the turn of the 1990’s, Hollywood seemed to abandon ideas for low-budget, cheesy horror films and set their sights more on the foundations of a lot of romantic comedies and raunchy comedies in general. In the 2000’s, Hollywood realized they could make an immense return if they focused on big-budget blockbusters and cater to fans of comic books who, themselves, had felt undernourished in decades past. The B-movie, or the low-budget, ridiculous horror movie, has been almost entirely wiped away, and fans of the genre need to suffer through many a bad direct-to-DVD film in order to find a diamond in the rough.

The Lazarus Effect
Directed by
David Gelb
Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters
Release Date
27 February 2015
Steve’s Grade: C-

David Gelb’s The Lazarus Effect reminds me of such a genre-film, and while it bears a great deal of issues, stemming from unoriginality to some pretty poor decisions made by some “brilliant” scientists and field-workers, it’s nonetheless something marginally refreshing during this time of year. We focus on a gaggle of medical professionals, headed by Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who have created a special serum that effectively brings dead patients back to life. Code-named “Lazarus,” the serum has had success on several different animals, particularly a dog, and the remainder of the gang – the tech-savvy Niko (Donald Glover), the smart-ass Clay (Evan Peters), and Eva (Sarah Bolger), the documentarian filming the entire process – exercises potential ways to bring the serum to a more mainstream level.

However, when Zoe dies from electrocution while working in the lab, following the government seizing the rights and the work permits of the group of scientists, Frank is determined to use the serum and bring her back to life. Despite the serum working effectively, Zoe begins to exhibit strange, demonic behavior, putting the remainder of the group in danger as they now all question the abilities of the serum they are working with.

The Lazarus Effect distracts quite well, in the way that its performers help to disguise the depressingly generic script and plot-structure at hand. At the film’s core, we have the superb actor, writer, and director Mark Duplass, who puts on a good show by himself, even if he working in a middling production, every time, and Olivia Wilde, who has enough charisma and character wit to carry herself through quite well. For a supporting cast, we have Glover, Peters, and Bolger, all of whom have been capable in other projects, and convey their personalities quite well, even if they feel stripped down to the bare-basics of character development. Nonetheless, despite the shallow writing of Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, each performer finds ways to carry themselves quite well thanks to their own professionalism.

The horror elements of The Lazarus Effect are more-or-less neutered, as this is a PG-13 production and the features those traditionally bring, unfortunately, go without saying. This is one of the first horror films in a while where the atmosphere, the scares, and the sense of dread were the last things on my mind. The character interactions in the film and the way the scientists would operate to try and perfect their serum was more intriguing and fun to witness than anything Gelb, Dawson, and Slater were trying to cook up.

On that note, The Lazarus Effect almost works as a lukewarm medical drama, with horror elements sprinkled in to prevent a sense of monotony. As a whole, it’s not very memorable, nor does it bear anything specific to its story or its structure. Yet, the cast of characters on display here are entirely capable, and prove that with one of the most interchangeable scripts around. Duplass and Wilde manage to strike up good solid chemistry, despite this film only being about seventy-nine minutes and Wilde’s character’s transformation coming about a third of the way through, the two performers make it work given their little time and ability to maneuver around the film’s predetermined structure.

Just three years ago, Gelb directed a charming, amiable documentary about an elderly sushi chef and his pursuit of the perfect sushi and the perfect sushi restaurant. It was Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and one of my favorite documentaries of 2012. What inspired Gelb to do a complete three-sixty and dive into this kind of basic filmmaking is beyond me, but The Lazarus Effect, while decent in one particular aspect, falters enough in others to make one want to forewarn Gelb what he is getting into and what he’s sacrificing.