A competently horrifying take on scientific experiments gone wrong.
A decent, well-made, small-scale genre film with a great cast of on-the-cusp players, The Lazarus Effect begins as a modern-day spin on Frankensteinian mad science, but segues into more demonic matters. In a university lab, significantly named scientists Frank (Mark Duplass) and his fiancée Zoe (Olivia Wilde) supervise a team – techies Clay (Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover), and documentarian Eva (Sarah Bolger) – working on a process involving a nerve-rebuilding compound and electric shock with the intention of creating a defibrillator equivalent to overcome brain death. They are successful in reviving a put-down dog, whose cataracts mysteriously heal and who develops slightly sinister abilities, before the university dean (Amy Aquino) shuts them down for breach of ethics – raising the important issue of the embattled state of science in facilities where the student body and alumni donors push a fundamentalist Christian line, a promising thread then dropped – and the process is bought through a corporate loophole by a Big Pharma concern repped by a smiling shark (Ray Wise).
Determined to replicate the experiment on their own terms, the gang sneak back at night and try again… only Zoe is electrocuted after a glitch, whereupon Frank insists on resurrecting her. Zoe comes back as an otherworldly, altered person with Lucy/Limitless-like brain activity, Carrie/The Fury-like psychic powers, a traumatic childhood nightmare involving a burning building that spills out of her head into the real world and black demon contact lenses. The reborn/possessed/transformed Zoe finds time to rack up a body count as she turns on and does away with her colleagues, putting the plot on a familiar horror movie track that goes back as far as The Walking Dead (1935) or The Man They Could Not Hang (1939), in the suggestion that those who rise from the dead are unholy things. Luke Dawson (the Shutter remake) and Jeremy Slater (the Fantastic Four reboot) craft a decent script that mixes classic genre tropes with savvy contemporary science and political angles, and the characters are vivid and engaging enough to hold the interest until the horrors go into overtime. Director David Gelb does the odd ‘boo’ scare but also builds tension as the action is confined almost entirely to the university laboratory, and the monster becomes more powerful. Enough hooks are left dangling for a sequel, especially considering a finale that suggests Zoe is about to bring all her victims back from the dead.