If "Flatliners" had been directed by John Carpenter (in his budget-conscious mode), it may have felt something like "The Lazarus Effect," a tense, efficient medical thriller best enjoyed sans microscope.
This limited-location shocker comes from the producers of such economical horror franchises as "The Purge" and "Insidious." It finds an offbeat group of Berkeley research scientists working to bring back the recently deceased by combining electrical impulses with a life-sustaining breakthrough drug.
Led by Frank (Mark Duplass, more large and in charge than usual) and his fiancée, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), the Lazarus Project Lab team includes the slackerish Clay (Evan Peters), computer savvy Niko (Donald Glover) and comely videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger). They manage to resuscitate a passed pooch named Rocky, but because of the uncertain effects of the powerful serum, the dog returns as more Cujo than Lassie.
Later, however, when Zoe is electrocuted by fluke, she's quickly brought back to life by an adamant Frank, his love for her overtaking the others' concern that a human being has never been subjected to the experiment. Suffice to say, all hell breaks loose in a series of vivid, frightening ways that scream "Don't mess with the laws of nature."
Director David Gelb, switching gears from his fine 2011 documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," keeps the mayhem moving briskly as an effective host of obstacles pile up in the script by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater.
What this sci-fi tale lacks in characterization and resolution it makes up for in its provocative thoughts about life and death, brain power, the real-world chemical and hallucinogen DMT, religion, science and an alternative version of hell.
"The Lazarus Effect."
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, sexual references.
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Playing: In general release.