David Gelb (INTERVIEW)
How would you summarise The Lazarus Effect?
The story is based around a group of medical researchers who discover a serum which, when given to a dead person or animal with an electric current applied, can bring that person back to life. They begin experimenting on lab animals before trying it on a human and terrible things happen. It’s definitely a homage to classic horror films like Frankenstein, Flatliners and Re-Animator.
What was the original inspiration behind the film?
The original idea came from asking what happens when you die, and what happens if you bring someone back from the dead? Another of my favourite horror films is Pet Cemetery which posed the question whether you should be brought back, or it’s better to be dead? We played with these ideas in the script and I wanted to bring elements from The Shining, particularly visually, to create a very sinister atmosphere.
While paying homage to these classics, how did you plan to breath new life into the genre?
One of the things we wanted to do in the script was make reference to modern science, methods and language to ground it in a sense of reality. On that foundation, we could make it weird and supernatural but it was important to make the foundation more realistic. Also, in the part of the story about coming back, we didn’t want demons following people back from hell or anything like that, but we wanted to make a comment that hell is what you make for yourself and it’s about the life you’ve lived and choices you’ve made. In this story, hell is living the worst experiences of your life over and over, like a continuous nightmare. These were some of the differences and ways we wanted to help set it apart from other movies.
The film features a very impressive cast, how did that come together?
We were very fortunate to have Mark Duplass interested in the movie as he’s worked with producer Jason Blum a few times. He really liked the script and character, but also liked the fact that it’s really an ensemble, similar to The Thing, Aliens or The Abyss. From there, Olivia Wilde was also interested as she always wanted to work with Mark. She’s also fascinated by Neuro Science so I think the subject was appealing to her. I think she liked the idea of playing a scary character too because, if you see her in films like Drinking Buddies, she’s very beautiful and charismatic, so she wanted a total contrast to that. Evan Peters is an incredibly funny and smart actor so it was great to have him on board, also bringing a lot of humour to the film. Donald Glover is also very funny and had a great sensibility which brought a lot to the table. Sarah Bolger is an incredible actress and has a real vulnerability. For me, she becomes the vehicle through which the audience experiences the horror as it unfolds. We were very pleased to have this amazing cast which really snowballed as each actor signed on. I think it’s a great ensemble and, while these actors have many great movies ahead of them, I hope people will look back on The Lazarus Effect in years to come and remember it as a time we got to see them all together.
What were some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you had to overcome while making the film?
The biggest challenge was making sure all the technical elements were ready and nuisances were delivered within a 23 day shoot. It was a low budget but ambitious movie and we had to get a lot done every day. It just involves fast decisions, a lot of problem solving and, as we didn’t know if we’d have time to reshoot scenes, it meant we had to get it right first time. But we were lucky because we had a very experienced crew and incredibly professional and prepared actors who nailed it on the first or second take so it all worked because of the people.
The film is part of Blumhouse, the new home for horror. How did it feel to be a part of that company and growing legacy?
It’s incredible and a total honour for me. I felt privileged just to be a part of it. Jason Blum is kind of like the new Roger Corman and, as he had multiple productions shooting at once, I was able to go and speak with other directors working and get insights and tips from them, because he has these amazing, talented people. The editor Michael N. Knue has worked on a number of James Bond movies so brought a huge amount of experience to our film. These are the types of people Jason has on his productions. As experienced as I am through my other projects, I’m extremely grateful Jason gave me a chance for this as I’m not a conventional horror director.
Do you have any personal favourite horror movies of your own?
For me, the biggest one would have to be The Exorcist. I love the idea that the sweetest little girl could become this terrifying creature and I enjoy the slow burner aspect as well. I also love The Shining for its cinematography, use of composition and atmosphere. I saw Pet Cemetery when I was very young and still love it now. I was really interested in the morality questions it raised. The latter two, in particular, really inspired me when making The Lazarus Effect.
What’s next and where can we see more of your work?
You can check out some very different things that I’ve made, including Jiro Dreams of Sushi which is on Netflix and also Chef’s Table which is a series about great chefs from all over the world. It’s shot in the style of BBC’s Planet Earth where we used beautiful slow motion visuals and music to create portraits of artists at the highest level of cuisine. I also directed a documentary called A Faster Horse, out soon in the US, about the legendary Ford Mustang, arguably the most important car in American history. But I’d absolutely love to dive back into horror and also work on other genres. I’m encouraged by the amazing horror movies which are coming out, such as It Follows and The Witch, which I was very lucky to see at Sundance. It’s absolutely terrifying! I can definitely see myself circling back to horror in the future.
The Lazarus Effect plays at Film4 FrightFest on Monday 31st August.