Maybe I should stop watching trailers altogether. I saw the trailer for KINGSMAN and thought "Interminable young adult franchise." I was completely wrong. I saw the first trailer for CHAPPIE (which only contained the "cute" material) and immediately thought "No disassemble! Number Five ALIVE!" Apparently, the actual film is considerably stronger (I'll try to catch it Thursday). And when I saw the trailer for THE LAZARUS EFFECT, I jumped straight to "PET SEMATARY rehash set in a laboratory." Well... in light of the above, I decided I should be less judgmental and check it out. And you know what? I'm not sorry I did.
Now, make no mistake. THE LAZARUS EFFECT is, indeed, a Stephen King pastiche. The dead dog is brought back to life, but it comes back with something evil. Then it happens to a woman (we're spared the toddler in this case). And the character who actually invokes CUJO doesn't recognize that he's in a reprise of PET SEMATARY. And there's a little girl standing at the end of a hotel corridor. And you can even add THE DEAD ZONE and FIRESTARTER to the list if you so desire. But for all that, there's something about THE LAZARUS EFFECT that keeps you around... especially if you're a fan of 80s horror NOT limited to Stephen King.
The film does NOT get off to a good start. It tries to make you jump by having a character pop up to say "boo" while wearing a PIG MASK which he just HAPPENED to bring along to this extended university experiment. In fact, the film is filled with "boo" scares that don't work, because director David Gelb hasn't developed his own sense of suspense timing. Almost all of the jumps are much too familiar to work. On the other hand, he DOES have a knack for arresting imagery (and now I want to go back and see his documentary JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI).
Okay. Situation in a nutshell. Olivia Wilde and Frank Duplass are scientists who have discovered a serum that can reactivate dormant areas of the brain. The idea was to find a way to revive coma patients, but the experiment has opened the door to the actual restoration of life in dead animals. Assisting the docs are a genius student (Evan Peters, who introduces the "vape" as an effective horror movie prop); a computer/tech wizard (Donald Glover) and a documentarian (Sarah Bolger, who thankfully does NOT turn this into a "found footage" movie). On the verge of genuine breakthrough, the project is shut down through political machinations (I was hoping to see more of Ray Wise of TWIN PEAKS fame, but he only has one scene), but to the movie's credit, the crew finds believable rhyme and reason to restart it in secrecy.
You already know from the trailer that the Wilde character gets zapped and resurrected. And she brings plenty back with her, and again, it's gratifyingly more literate than the mere "zombie" horror suggested by the trailer. Basically, she brings Hell back with her--and yes, you've seen such things before, but she's got a knack for sharing it with others that occasionally makes this film seem like something more than a PG-13 take on EVENT HORIZON (right down to the ending, frankly, though this movie still tries to give you a little bit more before the credits come up, and that little bit actually works).
It's too familiar to be completely successful, but as mentioned, the nods are still enjoyable (you probably saw the bit involving a locker in the trailer already... the only thing that does NOT happen here is Wilde turning to face the audience and intoning "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!," and if you recognize THAT reference, please accept my virtual high-five); the film LOOKS terrific and the performances are actually quite good throughout and invest the film with an urgency that it doesn't earn through directorial technique.
Not great. But certainly not bad.
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