“The Lazarus Effect” – a film review by Gary Chew
The Lazarus Effect begins not in Bethany but Berkeley. In fact, the entire movie occurs in Berkeley, most of it in an unassuming building on a university campus — at a well-equipped laboratory. Five medical students are conducting cutting-edge experiments on dead canines.
Frank and Zoe (Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde) are married. Both have doctoral degrees. Eva (Sarah Bolger) is an undergraduate who’s come to the lab to video the progress the team is making. Clay and Niko (Evan Peters and Donald Glover) are doctoral students assisting Frank and Zoe. One more important character is Rocky (Cato), a deceased dog whose part in the film expands as the narrative progresses.
Aggressively, Frank moves his team toward bringing Rocky back to life. The dog has been put down in another venue due to blindness from cataracts. The title of the picture implies that Rocky must be “brought back.” And that the team does.
Rocky is vicious one moment, then slips into a confused state. These mood swings continue, helping to occasionally raise the hair on the back of your neck too. He’s kept in a small kennel some of the time.
Frank tires to determine if Rocky’s condition might be improved with further tests on another canine cadaver held in a refrigerated part of the lab. A terrible accident ensues during those trials which brings Zoe to her death (no spoiler, btw). As she throws an electrical switch that allows a heavy charge to surge into the animal’s body, she is electrocuted. (Does any of this sound familiar?)
Frank is devastated. The other three are as well, but terribly confused about what to do. Frank knows what he must do. You know what he must do. And … he does it. Not only does he love Zoe, but feels he’s totally responsible for the tragedy.
Let’s just say that Frank’s effort to bring his lovely, smart wife back to life is successful — but don’t wish too much for what Frank wants. It is indeed, just let me say, a mixed blessing. How Zoe seems after being resurrected is much like how Rocky acts after he was “returned.”
Dreams are introduced into the narrative; dreams that only Zoe had when she was a little girl … and what’s really weird is that Sarah, after experiencing walks down halls with flaming walls, seems to witness the very same. Sarah doesn’t know that Zoe had these nightmares early in her life. How can that be? Well, it comes to such a point that one of the team is finally compelled to shout my favorite line in the movie, “This is too much weird shit!” Not much weirder than Mary Shelley could have imagined, it would seem.
Please don’t get me wrong, The Lazarus Effect is effective ginning up laughs and sudden screeches in the crowd. It was an entertainment hoot for me. The director, David Gelb was also wise enough to make his film without an excess of running time. Actually, it seemed sort of short.
With a title that implies a connection to the Bible is probably a good one to go with, but another that might have worked well on a more existential plane, I submit, is Bad Day At A Berkeley Lab.