United States. Directed by David Gelb, 2015. Starring Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Ray Wise. 83 minutes.
As long as people have been dying, others have sought to bring the dead back to life. The Lazarus Effect follows a team of scientists led by Mark Duplass (Creep) and Olivia Wilde (House) as they test an experimental serum intended to aid in the resuscitation process…but which unexpectedly brings a dead dog back to life.
Of course, any movie that starts with the return of an animal corpse to the land of the living must then address the question “When do we start human trials?” But between the revival of the dog and the death–and subsequent resurrection–of one of the scientific team, director David Gelb and screenwriters Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater try several approaches to the material, including philosophical meditation on the ethics of science (that’s not to say the science isn’t complete bullshit) and conspiracy thriller.
Sadly, the filmmakers dispose of these after very little development. The plot eventually settles onto the path of a slasher film, because of course there’s no way you’re going to travel back across the veil that separates death from life without turning evil for no appreciable reason whatsoever. The kill scenes don’t particularly entertain, and to add insult to injury, the team of highly-educated scientists seem to start taking stupid pills about halfway through the film. (Note to self: I really shouldn’t formulate plans to murder someone who has demonstrated the ability to read my mind while I’m in their presence.)
At least Gelb has a good, albeit largely wasted, cast. Duplass was probably born to play a scientist whose good intentions and ambitions outpace his actual ethics, and who has a bit of an issue in dealing with people. Wilde does well in both “counterpoint to the emotionally distant guy” and “homicidal monster” modes. Donald Glover (Community) and Evan Peters (American Horror Story) are fun to watch as junior members of the team, even when the plot reduces them to clichéd protests. Ray Wise, playing a shadowy corporate raider, suggests an entirely more interesting film in his single scene and three or four lines.
Unfortunately, none of these are good enough reasons to actually slog through the film. Leave this one alone; you’re better off with the more thoughtful Phoenix Project.