Movie Review by Brian Stidham
This is the second movie treatment of Stephen King’s 1983 classic horror novel. The original movie was released in 1989 and was a reasonably successful film by horror movie standards. Remakes haven’t fared well at the box office in recent years. Most do average at best. That’s where the new PET SEMATARY falls for me, mostly average.
The movie tells the story of Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel, and their children Ellie and Gage, who relocate to a small town in Maine seeking a quieter life. Their property contains an old pet cemetery where local children bury their pets. Rachel and Ellie stumble upon an eerie funeral procession, leading to curiosity about the site. After an accident kills the family cat, their neighbor Jud takes Louis out past the cemetery, to a remote ancient Indian burial ground where those buried there somehow return from the dead. Cue the vicious zombie cat! The cat indeed returns but is horribly changed, becoming mangy and ill tempered.
It is soon afterward that true tragedy hits when one of the children is killed. Mad with grief and acting against all of the natural (and supernatural) advice to the contrary, Louis decides to take his dead child to the ancient site for resurrection. The results are same. The dead child returns to life but horrifically changed, dark and malevolent. The result is a bloody and terrifying end for several people.
What I liked about the film is its dark tone, steeped in grim story elements such as the fear of what happens after death and the loss of someone so dear that you would be willing to deal with sinister forces to have more time with them. Granted, this is primarily drawn from the King source material but the directing partnership of Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer did a commendable job of bringing the sinister atmosphere to the screen.
The performances are well delivered. Jason Clarke turns in a solid performance as Louis. He is a little wooden at first but as we see Louis dive more into the unexplainable, you can see his acting chops develop. Seimetz turns in a great performance as Rachel, a wife traumatized by the death of her sister. Jete Lawrence almost steals the movie as the sensitive daughter Ellie. Lastly, John Lithgow brings a slice of reserved but eccentric style to Jud Crandall, the neighbor.
That being said, there are a few things that I didn’t like about PET SEMATARY.
Although both versions of the film are roughly the same length (roughly about an hour and forty minutes), the pacing in this version seemed a little slower. Maybe it was a deeper focus on creating the ambiance, which typically for horror movies in a positive, but I feel like that may have worked against this version. That slow burn pace only goes so far.
For a horror movie, it is light on the scares. Sure, there are some obligatory jump scares and a scattering of tension building moments but it is relatively light on gore with the exception of a few scenes. With our era’s shift to darker, broodier movies, I had hoped for a bit more heft in the horror department. The scares just felt lukewarm.
Lastly, the deviations from the source material didn’t set right with me. *SPOILER ALERT*
Unlike the book and the original film, in this version Ellie dies instead of Gage. Even though this gave the movie a different spin, as opposed to a retread of the same old story, it just didn’t settle right to me to change that element. Overall, the story didn’t suffer from the change but it did almost seem the change felt forced, following in the footsteps of Hollywood’s recent trend of gender switching key roles.
In addition, the ending was drastically changed. In the book and 1989 film, the undead Gage is stopped but not before killing Rachel. Louis then continues to make super bad choices by burying Rachel for resurrection. Of course, absolutely nothing good comes of this! This was to demonstrate the addictive power of using this evil place, which is even hinted at in this version. Yet, the ending in this version is retooled in a way that steals away that story thread and leaves too many unanswered questions. *END SPOILERS*
Was PET SEMATARY a bad movie? Not at all. I prefer seeing a new movie, not retreads, but I feel that it was worth the effort to remake. Some directors truly have a passion for their movies. They revive a favorite old property for a new generation with a fresh vision and, though it is a repeat of something we’ve seen, the movie makes its own impact. I just think the slow burn pace and the changes to the story ultimately hurt it in the end.
One last good thing and bad thing before we’re done. GOOD THING: this version didn’t beat us over the head with nostalgia like some remakes tend to do. It was, for the most part, its own movie. BAD THING: not having Fred Gwynne, the original Jud from the 1989 film (and Herman Munster), giving the line “sometimes dead is better” in his goofy accent. John Lithgow just didn’t sound the same saying it.
BONUS: they kept in the Achilles tendon slicing scene! Had they changed that, I would have condemned this movie to the furthest reaches of Hell.