Blumhouse horror The Lazarus Effect has finally arrived in the UK, bringing its tale of life after death (and life after death being quite a terrifying thing) to our screens. The film stars Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Donald Glover, Evan Peters and Sarah Bolger as a team of doctors who are working on a way to revive the deceased, but when something goes wrong and one of their own is brought back, they realise that something terrible has come too…
We got the chance to talk to acclaimed director David Gelb (Jiro Dreams Of Sushi) about his favourite horror movies, working with this incredible cast, and why he’s happy to jump between narrative films and documentaries.
Most audiences know you for your excellent documentary Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. How did you come to be involved with The Lazarus Effect?
My background is in documentaries, but I’ve always wanted to make a horror movie since I was a kid. I loved scaring my brother and goofing off with my cousin, playing with flashlights and stuff at night. So I thought it would be fun to try and make a horror film, and I discovered this script from my agent, and I worked very hard to convince Jason Blum that I was the guy for the job. I did a lot of look-books and faux trailers using footage from other films and he was very generous getting behind me despite the fact that I hadn’t made a traditional film before.
So you were excited about making the jump from documentaries?
I was very excited about it. I love narrative films as much as I love documentaries, and it had always been a goal to try to do both, so I was very excited to shape the reality that was in front of the camera as opposed to trying to capture a reality that already exists. There’s a lot more freedom there, there are a lot more challenges, and it was a lot of fun. And the best part for me was working with these actors, we were very privileged to have such a unique cast for this kind of film, so I was very excited about that. I found it incredibly rewarding and fun.
Was there a specific kind of actor that you were looking for?
I wanted an ensemble that had some range, so we could have some light-hearted moments, that they would be funny and get along together on set because we’re working in a high stress environment. On a low budget horror movie you don’t have a lot of time. You have to get it right on the first and second take, and these guys were all very professional and they all were able to play the scary moments and also play the light moments.
Mark Duplass has worked with Jason Blum a couple of times now, and he’s obviously a great director. Was he a helpful presence to have on set?
He’s incredibly helpful and he’s a very experienced filmmaker as an actor, producer and director, and having him around it was almost like having training wheels because he would always be helpful. He would never push an idea that didn’t necessarily work but he would just help me if I needed help, he was always there for me. He certainly worked as a leader of the actors as a group and stuff. He was really great. I hope to get to work with him again and I was just grateful that he wanted to be a part of it.
The story has elements of Flatliners but it’s also a classic horror concept, bringing life to the dead. Were you excited to be working with such an archetypal theme?
Oh sure, I think a lot of The Lazarus Effect is sort of an homage to my favourite horror movies. So there’s a lot of direct influences from The Shining, from Flatliners, Re-Animator, and it definitely was fun to act out pieces of my favourite horror movies! There’s a little bit of Rosemary’s Baby, she doesn’t know what’s going on with her body, it’s out of control and it’s kind of a love letter to my childhood in some ways. There’s a bit of Akira, I love Japanese genre fiction and we tried to work in some of that as well. So it’s definitely a labour of love.
Was it then a challenge to make distinctive and your own?
I tried to put it through my own perspective, and the screenwriters’ and the producers’ of course, it was very much a collaborative film, but we’re trying to put it through the perspective of something that could potentially happen, we were trying to make it scary by grounding it in some kind of modern day science, and that’s kind of our take on it.
This is your first narrative movie, and it’s a low-budget horror on a tight schedule. Could you tell us a bit about the challenges you came up against working on it?
Well it was one of the most exciting challenges I’ve ever had; it was kind of a marathon. But I’m somewhat used to it having worked on documentaries. When an event is happening you have to cover it and you have to film it in a really efficient way because you won’t necessarily get them to do it again. In the case of a Blumhouse movie, you have certain scenes that need to be shot in a certain amount of time.
So you spend a lot of time preparing in advance with your schedule, your overhead, rehearsing with the actors when you can. That way, when you get onto set, you absolutely take advantage of these precious moments when you have a crew of 100 people and everybody is focused on creating this one moment. Communication was absolutely key and so was preparation, which was a bit different from documentary, because you prepare as much as you can but ultimately you can’t really control what’s going on in front of the camera unless it’s a structured interview.
Definitely new challenges, it’s my only narrative feature film so it’s kind of a crash course, I didn’t get spoiled by being able to give the actors 20 takes. It’s the great thing about having this group of actors because they nail it by the second take, and then, if you’re doing well, you get a third or fourth take to try something else. I come from editing so I’m always trying to give myself as many choices as possible in the edit and not getting locked into a very specific outcome for a scene. So these are all challenges that we took into account and prepared for as best we could. But these actors have experience on small budget things, large budget things, it isn’t like they have an ego of any kind they just want to do great work and have fun doing it. They were all just such a pleasure.
Finally, could you tell us about what you have coming up?
I have a very personal story that’s based on something that my dad experience years ago. It’s not a horror film, it’s in the music world, and it’s something that I’ve been working on with a screenwriter and I’m very jazzed about it.
The Lazarus Effect is available now on Blu-ray and DVD. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.