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SYFY WIRE Olivia Wilde

Remembering the 2015 Blumhouse Flick The Lazarus Effect - Starring Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover

Olivia Wilde and an all-star cast take a demented detour into Blumhouse terror territory.

By Benjamin Bullard
Olivia Wilde with black eyes in The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Where can you see Olivia Wilde develop demented blacked-out demon eyes and then squish Donald Glover with mere mind power? If you guessed The Lazarus Effect (streaming now on Peacock), welp, it likely wasn’t just a guess — and if you didn’t, it’s probably because you never saw this 2015 sci-fi horror flick, complete with resuscitated shades of 1990’s Flatliners, in the first place.

Dealing with similar themes of peeking past the afterlife and living long enough to regret it, The Lazarus Effect came 25 years after its spiritual sci-fi predecessor, and like Flatliners, it leaned into a star-packed cast to sell its small-budget setup of science-y supernatural scares to audiences.

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Flatliners had Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, and Oliver Platt, but hey — that's so last-last century. Arriving in 2015, The Lazarus Effect — co-produced by Blumhouse and helmed by food-minded documentary director David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) — has Wilde (House, Cowboys & Aliens), Mark Duplass (Creep, The Mindy Project), Evan Peters (American Horror Story, Mare of Easttown), Sarah Bolger (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Once Upon a Time), and Glover (Community, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Lion King).

Duplass and Wilde star as a startup research couple, riding an academic grant to develop a serum for coma patients down the more intriguing alternate path opened by one of the wonder drug’s side effects; as an early operating-table scene with a perished pooch effectively shows, it can bring dead dogs (and later people) back to life. The pair and their tiny team spend nearly all the movie’s 83-minute running time inside their cramped lab (gotta save on those production costs!), first because they want to… and then later, after Zoe (Wilde’s character) dies in a high-voltage mishap, because they have to.

Zoe and Frank (her postmortem research partner played by Duplass) are on track to be married, though an early scene suggests their differences over the afterlife’s biggest mysteries might just make them incompatible as a couple. Zoe’s religious and thinks facts just can’t explain the “why” behind that fateful moment-of-death's white light; Frank’s a man of science to a fault, droning on about the pineal gland and the reductive chemical processes that frame his decidedly less mystical worldview.

A dead dog on a table in The Lazarus Effect (2015)

That all flips when a panicked Frank hooks Zoe up to the project’s needles and electrodes in a last-ditch effort to un-dead her only moments after the game-changing lab accident. She comes back to life, sure enough — only now in that strange, changed, Pet Sematary sort of way that more or less absolves any guilt over all the bloody havoc she’s poised to unleash in her altered reanimated state.

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From there, The Lazarus Effect switches over into wide-open horror mode, with all the requisite jump scares and gore that entails. Zoe’s brain power begins to expand, letting her move objects with her mind like Lucy’s Scarlett Johannson, all the better to mentally squish a metal locker — complete with her former lab pal (Glover) stashed inside — while ascending into Blumhouse terror territory with that trademark uncanny ability to omnipotently shift to a different spot in the room every time the lights blink off and back on.

A body sitting up under a sheet in The Lazarus Effect (2015)

There’s some additional backstory about Zoe’s childhood trauma, and the lifelong nightmares that loop back to a haunting decision she made as a kid — but by that point in the movie, all you’re really here for are the scares. We won’t spoil the twist ending of this 8-year-old fright film here, but it definitely doesn’t turn out like Flatliners… and there definitely won’t be many people who walk away from Zoe’s mangled brand of “You shouldn’t have played God” comeuppance.

Ready to peer into the scary great beyond? Stream The Lazarus Effect on Peacock here!