Pet Sematary (United States, 2019)April 04, 2019
It’s hard to assign a rating to something like Pet Sematary. This new adaptation of the
popular Stephen King novel matches the book when it comes to dread and nihilism.
Bad things happen to good people with no hope of redemption, salvation, or
catharsis. A sense of hopelessness pervades every frame. Co-directors Kevin
Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer “get” the material and work tirelessly to do something
many filmmakers have failed at: give life to King’s vision. They succeed and,
in doing so, craft a production that is profoundly uncomfortable. Many die-hard
horror fans will argue that the genre is supposed
to be like this, not watered-down like the many PG-13 samples or infused with a
hip, mocking edge. For them, Pet Sematary
will hit the sweet spot. For others, however, this may be more like an excursion
into masochism than an escape from the rigors of reality. This is what serious horror is like and it’s not for
The 1989 version of Pet
Sematary used a screenplay written by King and, as such, was faithful to
the novel. For the 2019 remake, Jeff Buhler has made changes – some small, some
significant – although the premise, characters, and structure remain the same.
It’s said that there are a trio of cardinal sins filmmakers should commit only
with trepidation: having a child perpetrate an unpardonable act, killing a pet,
and killing a child. Pet Sematary
does all three.
For Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family – wife Rachel
(Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), and son Gage (twins Hugo and
Lucas Lavoie) – moving to a small rural Maine town represents a welcome
reprieve from the high-pressure expectations of Boston. Here in Ludlow, they have
a huge piece of property that includes extensive woods. Their neighbor, a
good-hearted but somewhat odd codger named Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), becomes
friendly with the family, developing a special attachment to Ellie and her cat,
Church. Things seem to be going along nicely until Halloween, when Church is killed
by a speeding truck. Louis is reluctant to tell Ellie about her pet’s death and
Jud offers an “alternative.” Beyond the Pet Sematary, where most of Ludlow’s deceased
animals are buried, lies a place of dark, mysterious magic. Anything entombed
there will return to life. Although skeptical of the old man’s assertions,
Louis decides to give it a try.
The next day, Church comes home but he’s not the same animal.
His fur is matted. He smells. And his kind, warm disposition has been supplanted
by something cold and vicious. After the cat attacks her, Ellie bans it from
her room. Experiencing grave misgivings about what he did, Louis elects to kill
the cat but has a last-minute change-of-heart. Instead, he transports it a long
distance from Ludlow and releases it into the wild. This act has fateful – and fatal
Pet Sematary offers
a few obligatory jump-scares (mostly involving speeding trucks) to shock
viewers but the movie thrives as a result of the carefully constructed sense of
doom the permeates the film. Literally as well as figuratively, this is a dark motion
picture. Even daylight scenes appear dim, as if shrouded in shadow. The spare
score is haunting. Everything about Pet
Sematary is intended to disquiet, and it does the job admirably.
For the cast, Kolsch and Widmyer have chosen a troupe of
character actors and lesser-known faces. The intention is to avoid breaking the
illusion of the Creeds being a normal, everyday family by having an A-list
actor as the patriarch. We connect with these people almost immediately because
of their ordinariness and, although most viewers will know (or at least suspect)
what is to come, we can’t help but hope they’ll find their way through to the
other side. Such a wish, although appropriate for a fairy tale, is less
reasonable for a Stephen King story.
Horror is a fickle genre and, when a movie hits a nerve as forcefully as something like Pet Sematary, it can be difficult to determine whether it functions as a well-crafted exploration of evil and depravity or crosses a line into unhealthy areas of escapism and exploitation. One thing is for certain: this is as feel-bad a movie as you’re likely to find. From start to finish, there’s little joy to be had from Pet Sematary. Those who accept this and perhaps even welcome it will find that Kolsch and Widmyer have crafted an effective and unnerving interpretation of King’s novel. This is as far from PG-13 horror as the genre is likely to get.
Pet Sematary (United States, 2019)
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie
Home Release Date: 2019-07-09
Screenplay: Jeff Buhler, based on the novel by Stephen King
Cinematography: Laurie Rose
Music: Christopher Young
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
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