The Lazarus Effect

The Lazarus Effect

The Lazarus Effect
United States. Directed by David Gelb, 2015. Starring Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Ray Wise. 83 minutes. 3/10

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.

THE LAZARUS EFFECT poster.

Mark Duplass stars in CREEP.

Creep

United States. Directed by Patrick Brice, 2014. Starring Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice. 82 minutes.

Seriously? Another found-footage horror movie? Do I have to watch this one? Do I, Mom?

I do? Sigh.

Well…this one’s a Blumhouse joint. (BH Tilt, specifically.) I’m not about to say the Blumhouse name automatically indicates quality; I’ve seen too many Paranormal Activity sequels to make that claim. (And I’m awfully skeptical about this Martyrs remake, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.) But they’ve released enough interesting stuff that I’m willing to say I trust Jason Blum’s instincts.

So:

Creep stars Patrick Brice as Aaron, a videographer who’s responded to a Craigslist ad posted by a man named Josef (Mark Duplass, of the Duplass brothers). Aaron’s job is to spend the entire day following Josef around, recording what he does. Josef has good news and bad news. The good news is that his wife is pregnant with Josef Jr.; the bad news, that Josef has inoperable brain cancer. The video that he and Aaron make together serves as a message to his unborn son.

Now, if you’ve seen more than six movies in your entire life you probably find yourself thinking, “Y’know, I bet this Josef fella isn’t quite what he seems.” I know that’s what I thought. And boy howdy! Was I ever right! Josef starts acting creepy behavior pretty much the minute Aaron arrives at his cabin, stripping down to take a “tubby” for the camera (get yer mind out of the gutter, “tubby” means “bath”) and prancing around as his lupine alter ego, Peachfuzz, complete with a wolf mask about seventy-seven times freakier than necessary to make its point. And that’s just the stuff he does in front of the camera. His behavior becomes more extreme as the day turns into night, and just keeps escalating day after day.

On the surface, Creep seems so incredibly banal, I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly work. As a director, Brice exhibits very little style; this ain’t the prettiest movie to watch, but at least it does manage to look like it was filmed by someone mostly used to filming weddings and graduations. He relies on jump-scares to an excessive degree, or should I say Josef relies on jump-scares to an excessive degree, as one of his hobbies seems is, well, jumping out and trying to scare people.

Nor does the writing promise all that much. As a writer, Brice–that’s right, he also wrote the film, along with Duplass–doesn’t seem much interested in genuinely surprising the audience. There’s no possible way Josef could ever be anything other than a complete weirdo, and Aaron receives so little development he might as well just not be there.

So far I have told the truth to the best of my ability in this review; it is now time to shock the shit out of you and reveal that I have rated Creep 7 out of 10. This is ordinarily the sort of movie I completely loathe, and yet I found myself really, really liking it. Why? Simple: Mark Duplass. He brings something to Josef that completely makes the film work. I liked Josef, even when he got weird. Hell, I think I liked him more the weirder he got. And more importantly, I wanted to believe him even after I passed the point where I should have stopped trusting any sequence of words coming out of his mouth.

I admit, it’s a flimsy thing to hang a review of a film on, and I don’t entirely feel good about doing so–I feel like I should be more objective, more analytical. Maybe if I’d watched Creep on another day or in a different mood I would have hated it.

All I can say in summary is that life’s like that sometimes.

CREEP poster