There's little more frustrating, in terms of filmed entertainment, than watching a movie waste the talents of a gifted actor, and The Lazarus Effect burns through no fewer than three people who absolutely shouldn't have gotten themselves stuck in such a ropey low-budget horror film: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, and Donald Glover. And we might as well throw Ray Wise onto that list, since even though he's in dodgy little crap-pile movies like this all the time, most of them at least give him more than one scene with a grand total of zero meaningful lines of dialogue to occupy his time. And even as this is a grave irritation, it would barely even enter the conversation about just what it is that's most vexing and wrong-headed about the first truly awful horror film of 2015.

The film is about a scientist tampering in God's domain, and his name is Frank (Duplass), so at least the script, by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, knows itself. Specifically, materialist Frank and his Catholic fiancée Zoe (Wilde), who is a Catholic, and that causes struggles with Frank, who is atheistic, and so he can't understand her belief in the soul and the afterlife, which is due to her Catholicism - do you understand that yet? Because the movie is willing to make it clearer if need be. Three years ago, Frank and Zoe put their wedding on hold to focus all their attention on the serum they've been developing: a serum whose initial use was to sustain the brain activity of coma patients, but has turned out to have the rather unexpected side effect of bringing the recently deceased back to life. Their work on pigs and dogs has been unpromising so far, but a breakthrough is right around the corner when they, and their assistants Niko (Glover) and Clay (Evan Peters), welcome an undergraduate from the university where they do their work, Eva (Sarah Bolger), to film their experiments (and no, this doesn't mean that the film is one of those first-person jobs, saints be praised)

Unsurprisingly, Eva's first trip to the lab results in a shocking success when the team brings a dog back to life. Over the next few days, Frank and Zoe keep an eye on him - Rocky, in honor of that movie where Sylvester Stallone played a boxer who was killed and brought back to life - and the results are weird as hell: apparently, Rocky is getting better way too fast, way too much. All this thinking jams to a halt when the university tries to shut them down, and a biochem corporation swoops in to steal their research, and all looks grim, until the rogue scientists decide to break into the lab one night and re-create all their work to have a document that this miracle really was their work. What, exactly, they hope to do with this, given that the biochem company owns their work, that they did, fair and square and legally, is not clear. Just for the bragging rights, presumably. Anyway, they start working awfully hastily, to stay ahead of the guard and the mysterious hacker who has been spying on them, and they work so fast that they forget to take every last safety precaution. And that's how Zoe ends up electrocuting herself to death. I just bet you can imagine where it goes from there.

So, what do we have here, with this The Lazarus Effect? Equal parts Frankenstein, the Friday the 13ths where Jason was a zombie, and, I was surprised to find, Lucy (the dialogue smugly points out that we use all 100% of our brain, just 10% at a time - but RevivedZoe uses all of her brain all at once. And much the same happens to her as happened to Scarlett Johansson, only done as an '80s horror film instead of a '90s action film). And a whole lot of unbearably shitty writing married to trite directing and cinematography and a lot of cheap jump scares. Bland, generic horror I can handle, and director David Gelb is good at providing it: the lab is spookily underlit, it has lots of things that clang, and there are oh-so-many close-ups to facilitate people sneaking up when we're not looking. What torpedoes The Lazarus Effect is she sheer mindlessness of a screenplay that keeps starting plot threads which it has absolutely no intentions whatsoever of pursuing to completion: the dog basically evaporates out of the movie around the three-quarter mark, right after dialogue that's more or less literally stating "hold on, the dog is important! We have to remember that there was a dog in this movie!" The film keeps trying to build a sense of external stakes - the university wants to kick us out; wait, somebody here must be a spy; wait, this big multinational firm is being all sinister and wants our serum; wait, someone has hacked into our encrypted files - and just as doggedly keeps forgetting all of them the instant that the scene introducing them ends. None of the characters are consistent or make any kind of sense, though the central relationship between Frank and Zoe is clearly the worst part: they've been craftily written to seem totally unsuitable for each other and barely even able to tolerate each other's presence, except when they're a warm, stable, romantic pairing.

The ghastliest part is certainly that central religion/science debate, as conceived by people who apparently hate both faith and reason. So much energy is put into creating ambiguity about whether Zoe went to Hell, or if she just had a hallucination driven by her Deep Dark Traumatic past and kicked into overdrive by the moment of dying; such playful teasing goes on as to whether she's been possessed by a demon or is just having her brain overheat from too much magical science juice. And yet, in the clinch, the film gleefully announces that it doesn't give a shit about any of that; it just wants to have a corny twist ending and a rampaging Frankenstein monster who behaves with unnecessary personal cruelty while she terrorises the lab.

I want to admire The Lazarus Effect. Its economy and efficiency are both laudable (basically just five people on one set for 83 minutes), as is its desire to remix old-fashioned tropes with a certain rough-hewn DIY indie mentality. But the result is so lazy, and at times openly incoherent at the level of storytelling, while being shot like a series of beginner's lessons from the Every Horror Cliché Ever playbook, that I can't credit the film for its conceptual strengths. Only one aspect of the film is good on any level: Olivia Wilde is absolutely splendid, creating a woman who believably shifts between evil and confused terror, after having done all of the heavy lifting of the more character-driven first half entirely by herself. There's humanity and terrifyingly plausible inhumanity alike in her performance, and she makes the whole film seem a little more effective and stable just by virtue of standing there, insisting on what we should think and feel no matter what bullshit is going on the script. But she is one person, and it is a goddamn tidal wave of bullshit.