Movies & TV / Reviews

Pet Sematary Review

April 8, 2019 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Pet Sematary
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
Pet Sematary Review  

*Jason Clarke as Louis Creed
*Amy Seimetz as Rachel Creed
*John Lithgow as Jud Crandall
*Jeté Laurence as Ellie Creed
*Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie as Gage Creed
*Obssa Ahmed as Victor Pascow
*Alyssa Brooke Levine as Zelda Goldman

Story: Based on the seminal horror novel by Stephen King, Pet Sematary follows Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), who, after relocating with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two young children from Boston to rural Maine, discovers a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near the family’s new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his unusual neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unfathomable evil with horrific consequences.

There seems to have been a reappraisal of the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary following the announcement of this remake, with some suggesting that the film either doesn’t hold up or wasn’t that good to begin with. Even the Rotten Tomatoes summary for this film simply says, “Sometimes remade is better,” which is a perfectly snarky way to get people to avoid actually telling people anything about what critics are actually saying. It seems everyone was ready to declare this Pet Semetary as the superior film, which means going in it has a lot to live up to as a resurrected tale.

First things first, the 1989 film is a solid adaptation of one of King’s most depressing and terrifying novels. It does suffer from some wooden acting but there’s a lot about that movie that works. A remake offered a chance for the filmmakers to dive deeper into what made the book work, which is to explore the very nature of grief and how it drives Louis Creed to make the stupid decisions he does, which is eventually what destroys him and his family. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that tragedy befalls the Creeds, but exactly what tragedy is up for you to see for yourself.

It’s going to be hard to separate this remake from the 1989 original partially because the film itself seems designed with that film in mind. There are twists that happen specifically as a way to both pay homage to that movie and to give a wink to those fans and say, “see? we’re not going that way.” That honestly hurts this movie at times, because it tries so hard to get out of the shadow of that film rather than to tell the story it is pulling from the page. When you hear dialogue from King’s work, see moments that were described in the novel or see actual clever moments, you can see a great story underneath all the schtick.

That’s really what this is. It’s a battle of two movies. On one hand, there’s a very clever take on King’s novel. A dark movie that’s morbid and even almost comedic at times (there’s a moment involving ballet that is definitely played for laughs with the right crowd). On the other, it’s then pulled back into reminding people that the old works exist. Victor Pascow appeared in a hallucination in the 1989 film, so he has to keep returning here. For the record, the character was barely a factor in the novel and was completely unnecessary here. For a movie that wants to escape the shadow of the the old incarnation, it follows the blueprint to the letter.

Don’t take that as a huge criticism. There is a lot to love about the new Pet Sematary. It is, objectively, a better film than the 1989 original. The acting is far superior, particularly from Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz over Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby. Seimetz in particular is great as Rachel, and her fear as palpable. Also, Jeté Laurence with any justice in the world will be a big star in the future. She’s given quite a bit to do as Ellie Creed and knocks it out of the park. She’s both sympathetic and at times disturbing. It’s not so much the over-the-top scenes, but the quieter moments when she’s meant to stare and you know that something’s off about her.

The movie also looks great, visually. There’s a great gothic atmosphere that evokes the old Universal classics or perhaps a Hammer film. There’s fog everywhere, particularly in the nighttime scenes, and the cinematography makes sure to show you everything. That’s not a thing you typically praise in a Hollywood horror film, particularly since it usually likes to shoot everything through murky, dark filters. But between this and IT, the newer Stephen King adaptations are doing things differently.

As far as the changes, while this review won’t spoil them, there are quite a bit. The ending itself is completely different from the novel and is going to be very divisive among fans. Honestly, it feels more like Pet Sematary 2 than anything King wrote, but it more or less gets to the same end point. The biggest flaw with it is more that it feels rushed than anything else, as from the time the big tragedy occurs to the ending probably takes around thirty minutes. It would have helped the film if it had more time to breathe.

Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, the directors of Starry Eyes, had the chance to make a similar character-driven piece with their take on Stephen King’s story of grief and loss. Instead they were too focused on making sure it wasn’t too much like the 1989 original that it ended up being mostly the same in a lot of ways. Like that film, it’s also a flawed adaptation of a book that is probably too dark to be properly adapted for the screen.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Pet Sematary boasts some very strong performances and a few clever twists. However it's ultimately too focused on separating itself from the 1989 original to tell its own story. There's a great movie in here, but the flaws bury it and make it unable to rise above anything other than good.

article topics :

Pet Sematary, Joseph Lee