If horror stories teach us anything, it’s that reanimating the dead is rarely a good idea. The Lazarus Effect is the movies’ latest riff on this venerable theme.
Here’s the set-up: A team of scientists successfully reanimates a dog, but poor Rocky comes back abnormal. Then, in the middle of the follow-up experiment, there’s an accident, and Olivia Wilde gets killed. Her fiancée Mark Duplass reanimates her, and she comes back abnormal, too. Dangerously abnormal.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Pet Sematary, only with a wonder drug and electricity instead of magic. But to be fair, after Wilde returns, the rest of the plot doesn’t unfold in exactly the same way. There’s a puzzle to be solved, and if it can be, perhaps disaster can be averted.
The answer to the puzzle leads into an ending that I initially thought trashed the story’s internal logic. Actually, though, that isn’t necessarily so. Like many another reanimation yarn, the story has characters who see the experiment in purely scientific terms and those who are worried about the soul, the afterlife, etc. The finale can be interpreted as the vindication of one of those worldviews over the other, and if you take it that way, it’s the one really surprising part of the film.
As with many horror flicks, the characters are for the most part underwritten, but a talented cast does its best to flesh them out. Evan Peters is the standout, partly because he’s got plenty of charisma and partly because he gets to be the quirky, funny guy. Wilde demonstrates that she can do creepy, and Sarah Bolger is appealing as the student who has the bad luck to attempt a video documentary of this particular foray into mad science.
To avoid disappointment, Ray Wise fans (like me) should go in knowing that he’s only in one scene.
The movie is choreographed and filmed well, with tense sequences in the final act that make effective use of darkness and flickering light. We’ve all seen similar scenes before, but I still jumped a few times.
Bottom line, The Lazarus Effect is definitely no Frankenstein or even Re-Animator, but it’s not awful, either. It’s worth checking out at a matinee.