Someone else thought Olivia Wilde’s bright crystalline eyes were perfect to haunt moviegoers in a low budget horror film. After a solid stint in sci-fi films, “Cowboys & Aliens” and “TRON: Legacy” and the girlfriend role in “Rush” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” Wilde gets to unleash her steely stare at the likes of co-stars Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Evan Peters (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”) and Sarah Bolger (“Once Upon a Time”). Let the flickering lights and surprise scares begin.
In “The Lazarus Effect,” Doctors Zoe (Olivia Wilde) and Frank (Mark Duplass) are on the quest to sustain life in emergencies when they discover the Lazarus Serum, which essentially resuscitates and heals the dead. With the help of interns Niko (Glover), Clay (Peters) and Eva (Bolger), they set to recreate their successful test when a horrible accident kills Zoe. An emotional Frank elects to go straight to human trial in order to save the life of his fiancée, unknowing of the consequences of what bringing the dead back to life may be.
The movie plays like the Frankenstein monster of last year’s Scarlett Johansson action vehicle, “Lucy.” Unfortunately, for “Lazarus” director David Gelb, his visual style is not nearly as impressionistic as “Lucy” and “The Fifth Element” director Luc Bresson. Several scenes and shots will instead recall other moments in movie history. For instance, when Wilde’s character floats above her covers (“four feet above her covers” as Dr. Venkman would say), it’s the close-up portrait shot similar to the scene of a possessed Sigourney Weaver in “Ghostbusters.”
To be fair with David Gelb, “The Lazarus Effect” is a large step away from his previous film, the succulent feast for the eyes of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” The documentary followed master sushi chef Jiro as he creates specialties for his highly popular and legendary restaurant. “Jiro” is a lovingly composed ode to both the cuisine craftsmen and food documentaries. And while Wilde gets to have all the fun as the resurrected zombie with superpowers, Duplass is essentially playing of a variation of his sad boyfriend character. We don’t really get a sense of who Frank or Zoe are, other than the latter’s traumatic past.
“Lazarus” is mired in the predictability of its genre conventions, showing its cards on the table before actually playing them. It diminishes the tension bubbling up from the first act, and the suspense dissipates when it finally turns into the lab rat version of “Final Destination.” Sure, the scope of story, set and budget may have constrained what the production could do, but the film didn’t have to turn on autopilot to save the effort.
Perhaps what’s most damaging to the movie is that like “Lucy,” it attempts to explain the scientific jargon of their experiment to audience stand-in documentarian Eva. There’s an awkward back and forth about religion and philosophy that’s mentioned in passing once more throughout the film and never thought of again because there are jump scares to fit in. A few other questions go answered or aren’t really explained, and the audience is expected to take it at face value because Zoe needs to kill another intern.
Sometimes it’s better to leave the dead alone, and try resurrecting the script instead. “The Lazarus Effect” is a decent thrill but it lacks the brains to get itself out of the grave.
“The Lazarus Effect” opens nationwide on Feb. 27.