Friday, 11 September 2015


Ever since Mary Shelley put pen to paper back in 1814, horror has been full of stories of scientists falling victim to their own ambitions as they meddle in the mysteries of life and death.
The latest in a long line of these tales, David Gelb's The Lazarus Effect had its UK Premiere at FrightFest on 31 August.
Is this a film that is better off buried? Or is this a movie set for a glorious resurrection? Read on…


Dir: David Gelb

Starring: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Ray Wise, Amy Aquino

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Medical researchers Zoe (Wilde) and Frank (Duplass) have stumbled upon what might be the greatest medical discovery of all time. While attempting to create a new medicine for use in coma patients, the engaged couple have created a serum (codenamed: Lazarus) that seems to have the ability to resurrect the deceased. 
Now, along with friends and assistants Clay (Peters) and Niko (Glover), the group hires a young videographer Eva (Bolger) to document their experiments.
Finally they conduct an unlicenced, illegal trial in which they use the serum on a recently deceased dog. At first it appears to have failed, but then the dog suddenly stirs. Overjoyed the group begins to celebrate.
However, as time passes the scientists start to notice some changes in the dog. It becomes more aggressive and loses its appetite, while the cataracts that had blinded it prior to death miraculously disappear. The group run some tests and discover that the Lazarus serum has not left the dog's system as anticipated, instead taking hold and causing numerous changes on a neurological level.
However, before the group can conclude their experiment a double blow strikes, one that sees their experiments discovered and terminated, then their sponsors are bought out by a major pharmaceutical company... one which is all set to land sole ownership of their work.
With the clock ticking, the group faces a race against time to prove that Lazarus is their discovery. Desperate, they break into the lab to get footage of them successfully resurrecting a subject with a secret cache of Lazarus.
However disaster strikes, leaving them facing a heart-wrenching decision — one that could have terrible consequences.

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): There's a reason that horror stories about man's hubris overcoming death itself are so popular. It's the last great mystery — is there a life after death and, if so, can it be ever be proven?
Death is something that every single one of us must face in the end, making the desire to overcome it a motive that we can all understand. Combine this with bereavement (another of life's tragic inevitabilities) and we are given a compelling central dilemma. When this is then held up beside the growing mistrust that many individuals have towards science in an age in which technological advances have made breakthroughs so easy that sometimes they are made with little regard for the consequences, we have a heady breeding ground for gripping storylines.
For the most part, The Lazarus Effect understands the strengths of such a story and plays to them.
The story, by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, touches on all the themes above plus takes the time to layer in some nice touches, even hinting at themes regarding religion and big business.
The characterisation on the leads is great, and, much like Victor Frankenstein, it is the arrogance of these characters that proves their undoing, yet they remain sympathetic, despite (or perhaps because of) their flaws. This gives the wonderfully talented Wilde and Duplass plenty to do. 
These are some big-name actors and they both turn in fantastic work. Duplass impressed genre fans last year with his role in Creep and he proves just as excellent here. Wilde is also fantastic, playing a sympathetic romantic lead and then getting to have fun chewing the scenery as the dark forces within take hold following her resurrection. Both have fantastic chemistry and both nail their parts.
Among the supporting cast, American Horror Story and X-Men: Days of Future Past's Evan Peters impresses, providing some comic relief that breaks the tension in what is otherwise a very bleak film.
It is that bleakness that really drives the film forward and pushes it from sci-fi thriller to horror territory. Set mainly in a creepily sterile laboratory, at times the film gives us visual elements of Flatliners and Event Horizon. The atmosphere is palpable and the cinematography by Demonic's Michael Fimognari ensures that the slick, creepy visuals really help to ratchet up the tension. Director Gelb also shows some horror nous as he cultivates a host of very effective jump scares throughout the film and some decidedly unsettling set-pieces towards the end of the film.
Equally impressive is the tremendous VFX work from Brandon Parvini's large team. The results are superb, especially during an impressive 'death by locker' scene and the fever-dream-like vision of one character's fiery personal Hell. 
The scares are well handled, with a decidedly creepy morgue sequence the standout among several that hit the spot. When it comes to sheer style, the impressive production values make The Lazarus Effect tough to top.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Much like the creature from the aforementioned Frankenstein, The Lazarus Effect should be wonderful, yet unfortunately it instead comes across as an ugly mishmash of several disparate parts.
I don't know if the film was re-cut or excessively tinkered with in post-production (although the lengthy stretch between the close of filming and release certainly suggests this), but it really feels as if this is case.
The plot is decidedly erratic, with what seem like key elements introduced then immediately discarded, and pacing that drifts all over the place. The sudden and decidedly jarring (albeit very well executed) action packed finale REEKS of studio interference — I'd love to read the original script to see if this is the case.
Furthermore the point halfway through at which we get plenty of 'lights out, lights on, BOO!' jump scares (while quite well executed) really doesn't match the more character-based flow of the opening scenes.
Much like Demonic, this is not a terrible film per se, but it is one that really should have been so much better. The cast and crew assembled here are absolutely incredible for a genre flick and with a budget estimated to be in the region of $3.3m, it didn't exactly suffer from a shortage of financial backing.
Yet somehow it doesn't quite work. Cut into a few 15 minute shorts I'm sure each segment works pretty well on its own, but when combined it all comes up a little hollow and decidedly disjointed.
It feels very much as if it aspires to conjure up elements of Frankenstein, Lucy, The Fly, Flatliners, Event Horizon, Pet Semetary, Carrie, The X-Files and The Shining — all admirable influences in their own right, but it's simply trying to do too much and doesn't leave any room for the film to do its own thing.
As is so often the case with big studio horror films it feels like filmmaking by committee, as if a checklist of 'scary things' was drawn up and the plot twisted to accommodate each of them.
The actors are all good, the characters they play, for the most part, entirely bland and forgettable. With this much talent onboard they really did deserve more.

THE VERDICT: It may sound as if I hated The Lazarus Effect, but that isn't the case. Instead I was massively disappointed with it.
Frankly I'm tired of seeing studios churn out uninspired, repetitive misfires, squandering obscene budgets and wasting the skills of gifted cast and crew when I know how many talented, imaginative filmmakers are out there struggling to create clever, chilling, high-quality horror films with a fraction of the resources.
The Lazarus Effect is just the latest film to resurrect this dormant frustration. Is it awful? No, not really, I'd even go so far as to say it's probably worth a rental. The thing is, I'm pretty sure that a month after that rental you'll have forgotten all about it. With the talent and budget that this movie had, that's pretty unforgiveable in my book.

The Lazarus Effect will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 19th October here in the UK.

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare hereWind Walkers hereStung hereNight of the Slasher hereInvaders hereCrow Hand!!! hereWe Are Still Here here and Demonic here.
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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