Title: The Lazarus Effect
Director: David Gelb
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover and Sarah Bolger
People have long been fascinated with the idea of harnessing the power of humanity’s long-sought after scientific achievement that they’ve never been able to grasp-reversing the finality of death, and capturing the elusive and desirable fate of immortality. Director David Gelb’s new supernatural horror thriller, ‘The Lazarus Effect,’ which opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow, not only enthralling explores that intriguing concept, but also fascinating ponders the question of whether opening the gap between life and death ultimately leads to the unleashing of an indestructible evil. The film intriguingly shows that reawakening the dead is meant to reunite separated loved ones, but it essence it actually leads to the darkest corners of the human psyche and mortal fear.
‘The Lazarus Effect’ follows two engaged scientific researchers, Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), who have put their wedding plans on hold for over three years, so that they can instead focus on pursuing their grant at a California university. While their study was initially intended to find a treatment to help coma patients stay alive, the duo has secretly begun trying to resurrect various deceased animals, in order to find a break-through to eventually help bring humans back to life. After successfully resuscitating a dog by injecting him with a resuscitation serum, the tryptamine compound DMT, the researchers and their assistants, Niko (Donald Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters), along with university student Eva (Sarah Bolger), who’s videotaping the experiments, the group celebrates their success.
While Frank is elated with their new breakthrough, Zoe begins to feel conflicted over their results, as she tries to balance her religious and scientific beliefs. While her fiancé tries to reassure her that their research is meant to help people in need, Zoe also begins to become plagued by a recurring nightmare about a traumatic experience she had as a child. Despite her reservations about their unsanctioned research, and the fact she notices the dog is becoming more aggressive every day, Niko, Clay and Eva initially agree with Frank’s enthusiasm over their results.
But when the dean of the university unexpectedly learns about the group’s unauthorized experiments and pulls their grant from their research, Frank, Zoe and their team resolutely decide to fight back. Determined to not see the credit for their three years’ worth of trials being claimed by the biotech company who funded their grant, they decide to launch a rogue attempt to recreate their investigations before their lab is completely deconstructed.
But after Zoe infuses electricity into the latest dog they’re trying to bring back, she’s fatally electrocuted. A desperate Frank decides to try to use their serum to bring his fiancée back, much to the team’s objections. While the procedure initially appears to be successful, Frank and his assistants soon realize there’s something physically and mentally wrong with Zoe. As she begins to develop such unexplained powers as telekinesis and telepathy, the group must contend with not only the moral and legal question of bringing someone back to life, but also the wrath of her return.
The horror thriller’s writers, ‘Shutter’ scribe Luke Dawson and the author of the upcoming ‘Fantastic Four’ remake, Jeremy Slater, effortlessly worked with Gelb to create an enthralling glimpse into the horrific cost of how a person’s exposure to their own mortality can harrowingly change them, and make them not quite human anymore. The filmmakers exhilaratingly explored how Frank’s determination to save Zoe explores one of the most danger-fraught biological quests of all, and how their decisions can literally come back to haunt them.
The writers smartly chose not to feature Zoe’s death and resurrection right in the beginning of the story. They instead rightfully placed Frank’s tragic and life-defining choice in the middle of ‘The Lazarus Effect,’ as a way to emphasize how she’s initially a gentle and morally-driven protagonist, before transforming into a taunting and spiteful antagonist who gleefully harms anyone she views as a threat. While Zoe is initially troubled about the ethical implications that are associated with her fiancé’s drive to bring people back from the dead, she enthralling thrives on the painful memories from her most traumatic childhood experience after she dies and is successfully brought back, in an effort to justify her new need to harm the people who interrupted her final resting place. The emotional childhood demons the more conservative researcher continuously battled with in life offered the supernatural thriller a complex and thought-provoking examination into how unresolved issues can harrowingly damage a person’s psyche, particularly when they’re contending with their own mortality.
The versatile and talented Wilde, who naturally plays endearing characters like the morally distraught Zoe in the beginning of the sci-fi horror film, was an intriguing choice to play the medical researcher, as the main female character had the most daunting character arc in the story. But the Screen Actors Guild Award-nominated actress was a gripping choice to play the intellectual researcher, who was repressing increasing resentment towards Frank for disregarding her moral beliefs and questions about their experiments. Then when Zoe is brought back from the dead, Wilde intimidatingly manifested her character’s darkest fears about paying for her life’s mistakes and sins. The performer alluring infused her character with dissipating qualms about harming the people who selfishly brought her back to life, most notably Frank, as the process further prevented her from resolving the conflicts she long fought in her initial life.
While Frank is completely committed to, and in love with, his fiancée, he undergoes an intriguingly different emotional journey from Zoe throughout ‘The Lazarus Effect.’ The lead researcher on the project was fascinatingly shown to be completely consumed by the team’s experiments, at the expense of upholding his bond with his partner. He captivatingly forgoes embracing Zoe’s theological ideas and questions, so that he can instead focus on the acclaim and fulfillment of saving people’s lives with their findings. But after he forces his team to bring her back to life, he’s harrowingly unable to cope with the fact that she has turned into the complete monstrous opposite of her normal endearing self. So in order to ease his troubled conscience about the tragic mistake he made, he’s willing to do whatever’s necessary to rectify the situation, even if it means killing her himself.
Even though Duplass has admitted that he’s not usually a big fan of the horror genre, the versatile actor-director-producer-writer smartly chose to portray the questionable lead researcher. The performer, who immersed himself in medical research before filming on the horror movie began, enthrallingly showcased how Frank spent so many years subconsciously disregarding Zoe’s feelings and qualms about their experiments before her accident occurred. But after her death, Duplass proved his wide range as an actor as he showcased his character’s sudden loss of humor and charm, as he faced his increasing grief over how his actions negatively affected her.
The most intriguing, memorable and effective horror films aren’t the ones that solely rely on physical scares and special effects; they also boldly delve into the most primal explorations into the origins of, and reasoning behind, human fear. As people contend with harrowing loss and the mistakes from their past that continuously haunt them, especially as they face their own mortality, ‘The Lazarus Effect’ captivatingly proves that trying to revive a doomed relationship, as well as reliving their darkest memories, can be the most frightening punishment of all.
Gelb enticingly worked with Dawson and Slater to create complex characters who are dramatically changed after they delve into the moral and physical challenges of tearing a departed soul from its natural path. Through the filmmakers’ versatile story, and the actors’ riveting portrayals of their complex protagonists who become more reliant on their antagonist behavior to obtain what they want as the plot continued, the horror thriller compelling explores the consequences of breaking the boundaries between life and death, which go far beyond know scientific knowledge.
Written by: Karen Benardello