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The Lazarus Effect – Exclusive Interview with David Gelb

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Lazarus effect

In The Lazarus Effect, a team of ambitious medical professionals have found a way to bring dead dogs back to life using a serum codenamed “Lazarus.” But tragedy strikes when Zoe (Olivia Wilde), one of the lead researchers, dies in a lab accident.

In desperation, her fiancé (Mark Duplass) attempts to bring her back using the serum. It’s a success… sort of. When Zoe begins to display unusual abilities, the team realizes that their attempt to resurrect the dead may have opened the door to unfathomable evil. The Lazarus Effect is directed by David Gelb and written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater.

Gelb was on hand at the press junket to talk to press – we snagged an exclusive, and here’s what he had to say to Dread Central.

Dread Central: What was it about this particular story that drew you in? Even if you would have done it regardless of everyone who’s involved, what is it about this particular story that grabbed you?

David Gelb: For me it’s just this question: What happens when you die? What is hell or the unknown? And so when I read the script I thought this was an interesting take on that and then it was smartly written, great characters. But the character of Zoe was so interesting to me because I love how she starts out like the protagonist of the film and then there’s a big shift that happens.

DC: You don’t see that happen very often.

DG: Yeah, so I thought that the ability to kind of play the two sides of that was really exciting to me. I love characters with that type of duality. So, at a certain point of the film her id just kind of takes over and she gets really scary. We like this girl and now we’re terrified of her, so that was really an exciting opportunity.

DC: How much of the character’s backstory was explained in the script, and how much nuance and texture was in the story to begin with?

DG: We added a lot to it. All of our actors are incredibly creative people. They don’t just passively read a script; they get into it and they have to make it real to themselves, so we would all kind of sit around to ourselves and kind of figure out what’s the dynamic there. Mark’s character is the leader of this group of researchers, and while we were on set we were just kind of talking [about that]. Then Evan is probably the youngest, Olivia and Donald, they’ve known each other for longer and we kind of developed a lot of these ideas by kind of talking it out together. So all the actors could feel like they understood who they were and where they’re coming from and what they wanted.

DC: Not to take anything away from the human actors, but that dog was incredible. He’s got some amazing expressions. Was that the same dog throughout, or did you have multiples to do different things?

DG: It was the same dog. This was a really special dog and we really wanted to make sure of that because he was sort of the precursor to what happens to Zoe. Also, with reference to Pet Sematary, which is one of my favorite horror movies I watched when I was growing up, it was like having seen what happens with an animal first and then it happens to a human, and so we wanted to get a dog that would start out looking cute and friendly, and then things start to turn. So Kato, who plays Rocky, was just incredibly expressive. He is a dog with great eyebrows! One of my favorite shots in the movie is when he goes into the MRI machine and just looks around and stuff. He’s like, ‘What is happening to me?’ So he was a great actor.

DC: When you work with such a high profile production company like Blumhouse, do you worry that a lot is resting on your shoulders since you’re not yet known in the genre?

DG: Not really. The producers were only there to help facilitate what we needed. I think we all, right off the bat, were on the same page about the kind of movie that we wanted to make, what the movie was going to feel like, and I came in well prepared. I had storyboards for almost the entire film. I had visual aids and visual tools so the entire crew both below the line and above the line were all able to know exactly what it is that we’re trying to do. I think communication was really helpful. Jason [Blum] essentially just wanted to know that I know what I’m doing and I’m confident in what I’m doing, and if I can show him that, he just kind of lets me go and he gives me all the tools to do it.

DC: I’m a fan of Pet Sematary too, and of course Flatliners

DG: Me, too. What we were doing at the end of the film was, we were trying to show a complete breakdown and a complete transformation because she was being sucked into the hell of her memory. What we tried to do was a combination of CG and practical.

DC: I enjoyed the movie, but in my opinion the CG was too much.

DG: For me, it’s just about serving the story; it was never my intention for it to be distracting. It’s a small budgeted film about a really big idea, and so I just tried to use all the tools I had to make the end feel as big as it could and as satisfying as it could. So the intention is to serve the story. It’s my first film and there are lessons to be learnt. We had a lot of great people working on it and I think the effects are effective.

DC: Fair enough. Now, your lead actor, Mark Duplass, is 100% real. He adds a certain groundedness to an otherwise fantastical world.

DG: One of the great things he brought to his character is that Frank in the film is a character who makes some very bad decisions. He becomes some sort of villain in the film because he’s so obsessed with achieving his personal goal that he is willing to sacrifice the rest of his team to a certain extent. And so I thought it would be cool to put a really nice, likeable, charismatic guy in that part because then you get why they all have been kind of sucked in and why they gather around him and follow him. And then when he is making his bad decisions, when he’s really in need, when he’s so desperate and his fiancée is dying in his arms, you kind of get why they rally around him. Even though it’s probably not the right thing to do, they still do it. So watching a really likeable guy making bad decisions, [there] is a certain kind of sympathy that the audience then feels for him. He is incredibly charismatic, I can believe that he’s a leader. Also having him be a very experienced director that has done many films, I could lean on him to a certain extent. He was just incredibly helpful and nurturing, and if something wasn’t making sense to him, we would talk about it and we would find a solution. His knowledge was an incredible resource; his knowledge and experience was such a great resource for me.

The Lazarus Effect, in theaters February 27th, was directed by David Gelb and written by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater. It stars Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, and Donald Glover.

For more info follow The Lazarus Effect on Facebook and Blumhouse on Twitter using the hashtag #EvilWillRise.

Synopsis:
From masters of horror Blumhouse Productions – producer of The Purge, Insidious, and Sinister franchises – THE LAZARUS EFFECT follows a group of researchers led by Frank (Duplass) and his fiancée, Zoe (Wilde,) who’ve achieved the unimaginable: bringing the dead back to life. After a successful, yet unsanctioned trial on a newly deceased animal, the team is ready to unveil its breakthrough to the world. When the dean of their university learns of their underground experiments, their project is unexpectedly shut down and their materials confiscated.

Frank, Zoe, and their team (Glover, Bolger, and Peters) take matters into their own hands, launching a rogue attempt to recreate their experiment, during which things go terribly wrong and one of their own, Zoe, is horrifically killed. Fueled by terror and grief, Frank pushes them to do the unthinkable: attempt to resurrect their first human test subject.

Initially, the procedure appears a success, but the team soon realizes something is wrong with Zoe. As her strange new persona reveals itself, the team quickly becomes stuck in a gruesome reality. They are no longer faced with the question of whether they can bring someone back to life – but rather, the wrath of her return.

lazarus - The Lazarus Effect – Exclusive Interview with David Gelb

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