A naturally occurring brain chemical is the basis for the hallucinogenic goo that gets injected into subjects’ heads — along with a giant jolt of electricity — in “The Lazarus Effect,” a modern-day Frankenstein story about a team of medical researchers trying to raise the dead. Yet despite the presence of this potent drug — known among the party set as DMT — there’s precious little fun in this illogical and overly familiar thriller.
Despite classy lead performances by Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde, the movie, from horror factory Blumhouse (known for cranking out sequels in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, among others), relies too heavily on reanimated monster movie cliches and scientific gibberish to keep it alive. It staggers, zombielike, from one jump-scare to another before petering out, a scant 83 minutes after rising from the slab.
After trying to resuscitate dead pigs and dogs, with mixed success, Duplass’s Dr. Frank (pun intended) Walton is forced to use his “Lazarus serum” on his girlfriend, Zoe (Wilde), after she is accidentally electrocuted while throwing the lab’s weirdly antique-looking power switch. More bizarrely, this otherwise high-tech facility seems to be plagued by the world’s balkiest power grid. Much of the film takes place in half or total darkness, with light bulbs flickering off and on at the peskiest times. Such as when Zoe, who has inexplicably returned to life with the powers of telekinesis, mind reading, clairvoyance, levitation and superhuman strength (a la Scarlett Johansson in “Lucy”), goes on a rampage.
I’d be cranky too, if roused from the dead. But Zoe’s bad mood is never really explained, despite a halfhearted attempt at a back story involving her recurring dreams of fire, which suggest an underlying malevolence of some sort. More interesting is the ongoing debate, early in the film, between Frank, an atheist, and Zoe, a devout Catholic, about scientific hubris and morality. It adds a bit of interest, but the subject eventually fizzles out in a killing spree.
As Zoe’s potential victims, the supporting cast of Donald Glover, Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger are fine, if underutilized. Perhaps in “The Lazarus Effect 2” — and yes, the movie ends with the suggestion of a sequel — they’ll all come back, high on life, if not DMT, to tie up the film’s frustrating loose ends.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some crude language, bloody violence and frightening images. 83 minutes.