Rating: PG-13
Stars: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger
Writers: Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater
Director: David Gelb
Distributor: Relativity Media
Release Date: February 27, 2015

THE LAZARUS EFFECT | © 2015 Relativity Media

THE LAZARUS EFFECT | © 2015 Relativity Media

Don’t let the PG-13 rating scare you away. THE LAZARUS EFFECT is a perfectly good horror movie, and if its various ideas all have their roots elsewhere, the filmmakers have brought them all together in a way that feels fresh and eerie.

At a college-funded lab in Berkeley, a small team of youngish scientists works on covert experiments that have the ultimate goal of making it easier for paramedics to resuscitate patients by restoring brain function. They’ve been at this a long time. Team leaders Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) have been engaged to be married for years without ever quite getting around to it because of the work, and Zoe is plagued by nightmares of a childhood trauma.

An animal trial seems successful, though everyone is a little concerned that the dog in question has some strange cerebral activity and acts a little off. Then a series of setbacks culminates with a tragic lab accident that demands either acceptance of the terrible event or an immediate response. The decision is made to attempt resurrection of a human being, and it works – but the side effects are unanticipated.

THE LAZARUS EFFECT is not a zombie movie – the person who returns is conscious and has no interest in consuming human flesh. However, we can soon see the perils here.

Most of the film is set inside the laboratory, which gives it a good, claustrophobic feel. Director David Gelb makes sure that we don’t get a feeling of sameness from spending too long within the environs, using the spaces to strong scary advantage. Writers Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater create snappy dialogue and take care to make character choices plausible within the story’s ever-escalating crises. (They have also made some smart decisions about how the lab is run.)

Duplass has a pleasingly naturalistic manner, and Wilde handles the diverse aspects of her role with flair. Donald Glover, Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger all give strong performances as the other team members. Animal trainers Michael Alexander and Bobby Scott Schweitzer deserve kudos for their work with Cato, the dog that portrays Rocky – the canine has a worried look that suggests he knows something that the humans don’t.

There are so many possibilities in the second half of the film that the end feels both a bit rushed and inconclusive. Some plot points seem to beg explanations that are not forthcoming; while it’s pleasing that the script doesn’t get lecture-happy on us, a little more set-up for what happens at the end would not have gone amiss.

Still, THE LAZARUS EFFECT has good scares and some genuinely intriguing notions. It’s also well-acted, well-made and, at 83 minutes, has a commendably brisk pace.

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