Format: DVD Release date: 19 October 2015 Distributor: Lionsgate Entertainment Director: David Gelb Writers: Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater Cast: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, Donald Glover, Ray Wise
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).
Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden
A stylish riff on Repulsion that pays homage to a number of other arthouse horror classics.
A chilly art-horror exercise from writer-director Mickey Keating (Pod), who reunites with lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter – but here gives her the crazy role rather than asking her to be the ‘normal’ character. Indeed, the film is pretty much built around Carter’s presence as a stylish beauty with distracted eyes – she’s virtually the whole show, and luckily is strong enough to carry a picture that sometimes can’t make up its mind whether it’s more than a collage of homages (we checked off The Shining, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Ms 45, The Tenant and others) couched in coolly gorgeous black and white (the only colour is lettering used in chapter headings).
In New York – perhaps circa 1970, though that’s not quite clear – an unnamed woman (Carter) takes a caretaker job (from sinister Sean Young) in an old house that has given rise to many ghost stories and whose previous caretaker has taken a suicide leap off the roof. The house is pristine – and, as a real location, interestingly narrow – but has a single locked room the Madame warns ‘darling’ away from – later, when opened, the contents are terrifying to the protagonist but not shown to us. The woman finds an inverted crucifix necklace in a drawer and later a random guy (Brian Morvant) in the street gives it back to her, claiming she’s dropped it… She becomes convinced that the guy did something avenge-worthy to her (she has scars on her ribs – except when she doesn’t) and sets out to stalk him and pick him up in a bar, leading to an uncomfortable flirtation/confrontation, which pays off with a stabbing and extensive (if tactfully shot) dismemberment. Not only isn’t it clear that the victim is the guilty party who (presumably) raped ‘darling’, it’s ambiguous as to whether she’s remembering something that happened to her – or has filled her blank soul with a trauma inherited from the previous caretaker, and liable to be passed on to the next (Helen Rogers), who turns up during the end credits to replay the opening scene.
Glass Eye Pix mascots Larry Fessenden and John Speredakos show up as cops, barging in just as the heroine has been pared down to a screaming, primal creature. Many reviewers are puzzled or infuriated by the refusal to state clearly what’s going on, but the inferences seem plain to me… and the cloudy areas deliberate. Carter – who was in Jugface too – has something of the pop art look of a 1960s Italian comic heroine, with bobbed hair, carefully applied make-up (we see her doing it) and an array of little black dresses. Her stare is discomforting, yet undeniably sexy – raising the creepy possibility that she’s attractive to her victim because she’s mad rather than in spite of her mental troubles, be they her own or imposed on her by the house. Short enough not to wear out its welcome, this is an intriguing entry in the recent spate of post-millennial Repulsion redos (Goddess of Love, Sun Choke, Broken).
For this edition of Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman looks at a recent film from the busy Blumhouse boutique genre production label.
In 1985, the Reverend Jim Jacobs (Thomas Jane in a white suit with a folksy-sinister accent) of the ‘Heaven’s Veil’ cult presides over what seems to be a mass suicide at his woodland retreat… and only a little girl survives.
In the present day, driven documentarian Maggie Price (Jessica Alba), daughter of the FBI agent who led the raid on the camp and later killed himself due to bad memories, and Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe), the grown-up sole survivor, visit the site with a crew of genially disposable techies in the hope of finding some answers… which lead them to an abandoned house the FBI never found (accessible by seemingly walking across a lake surface). The place is full of corpses, film cans (and video tapes) and other useful stuff, which prompts flashbacks that give a slightly different view of what happened on that fateful day in 1985. [SPOILER ALERT] For a start, Jacobs was given to deathtripping à la Flatliners and had an antidote prepared for his poison sugar cubes so his followers could be revived en masse, but Maggie’s dad showing up scuppered that plan, setting the charismatic loon off on his backup scheme, which involves killing the documentarians and bringing them back to life in CGI-ghostfaced semi-possessed form to perpetuate his cracked beliefs. Oh, and Sarah learns he was her dad and his faithful nurse Karen Sweetzer (Aleksa Palladino) his mom. [END OF SPOILER]
This lesser Blumhouse production is a collaboration between eclectic screenwriter Robert Ben Garant (Jessabelle, Night at the Museum) and not-that-busy-lately director Phil Joanou (State of Grace, Final Analysis), which riffs on the suicide cult theme – resurgent in the movies thanks to The Sacrament – by blending Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, though it’s less concerned with weird beliefs and groupthink than simple creep stuff with a gang of Scooby-Doo-like kids in a van being done in and brought back in an eerie woodland setting. Alba, slipping a bit from the mainstream, and Rabe, a rising spook name thanks to varied turns on American Horror Story, are oddly given slightly thankless roles, upstaged by the decent, mostly engaging supporting stooges, who at least give the impression of being lively characters before their demon-zombification. It looks great, with blue-tinged widescreen images of ominousness, well-staged 1985 flashbacks and a couple of semi-workable scares, but it’s a predictable, pat programmer.
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