CARRIED AWAY: Wilde's Sissy Spacek impression is the only halfway convincing thing in Gelb's DOA feature debut.
There's no way to enjoy this derivative riff on reanimation as a horror movie. It's far too laughable, which is why it's been rotting on a shelf since 2013. But here's a trick you might find handy now that The Lazarus Effect is rotting in theaters: If you squint and view it as a Fatal Attraction-style parable of romance run amok, it has a certain nutty charm.
Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde play Frank (get it — Frankenstein?) and Zoe, a pair of love-struck researchers working at a Berkeley university. They claim they're developing a serum that will "give doctors more time" to help coma patients by extending brain life. What they really hope to figure out is how to bring back the dead.
Writers Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater set a new world record for first-act technical gibberish. Duplass deserves an Oscar for keeping a straight face while issuing comically incomprehensible instructions to Frank's crew as they conduct an experiment on a pig. I couldn't tell whether they were about to perform a heart transplant or fly off in the space shuttle, but I definitely knew they were smart.
Zoe gazes at Frank adoringly when their new serum and a jolt of electricity (get it — Frankenstein?) get a twitch out of Porky. But the glow fades. Sure, they're making progress as researchers. In their life as a couple, however, things are going nowhere. Between experiments, Zoe confides to a coworker that Frank is obsessed with work and seems to have forgotten all about the marriage proposal he made three years earlier.
When success is finally achieved with a dog, Zoe is thrilled, not only because they've made, like, the most important scientific breakthrough ever, but also because she and Frank will now be able to focus on their relationship. But just then, Big Pharma swoops in, pays off the university and assumes ownership of the formula. Now Frank will have to work overtime replicating the experiments to prove the discovery was theirs. How much is a woman supposed to take?
You know what they say: "Hell hath no fury..." Zoe decides to make a point and wears her engagement ring when it comes time to pull the resurrection lever. You guessed it: electrocuted. Luckily, Frank just happens to have the world's only Bring Your Loved Ones Back to Life kit. Not so luckily, when his beloved awakes, she's turned into Carrie. And not the sweet, pre-prom Carrie. The blood-covered, revenge-crazed, telekinetic killer Carrie.
Glenn Close got even with Michael Douglas by boiling his family bunny. Wilde takes things up a few notches. She teaches Duplass a lesson by hurling bodies around with her mind, setting fire to the lab and enlarging her pupils until her eyes turn totally black. I'm not sure what that's supposed to teach him, exactly. But when she takes his head in her hands and begins to squeeze, the message is clear: Would it have killed you to spring for flowers once in a while? The look on the poor guy's face says it all. In his next life (and this is a movie where he could have one), he won't make the same mistake. Talk about pressure.
Of course, The Lazarus Effect was meant to work as a horror film. It doesn't. The most shocking thing about it is that it was directed by David Gelb, who made the wonderful 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. That raises the question: Now that Gelb's career is officially dead, will he have better luck than Frank in bringing it back to life?