Movie Review: Pet Sematary.
This uninspired retread squanders its potential and doesn’t even rise to the level of laughably bad.
Sometimes dead is indeed better. Better that Pet Sematary continued to placidly molder in its grave than that we should have to watch such a listless remake. The 1989 original managed to capture some of the terror of Stephen King’s novel, gaining a quasi-cult status. This artless doppelgänger assembles its narrative out of horror movie building blocks, creating a film that feels more dated than the original. A few streaks of visual flair and creepy atmosphere are quickly wasted. By the time the film lurches towards its predestined climax, I was thoroughly bored and frustrated. It’s not the worst Stephen King adaptation…but I’m sure I could find a spot for it on the list.
Pet Sematary (2019).
The Creed’s move from Boston up to the remote woods of Maine with their two young children, as Louis (Jason Clarke) has been appointed the head of a university medical department. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) looks forward for a less hectic schedule now that Louis is out of the ER. Their young daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence), makes friends with a reclusive neighbor, Jud (John Lithgow), who warns her away from the creepy pet cemetery located behind the Creed property. When Ellie’s cat is killed by a truck on the busy logging road near the house, Jud takes pity and shows Louis a second burial ground, behind the “Pet Sematary”. After Louis buries the cat there, it comes back to life – but changed. When tragedy strikes one of the Creed children, Louis begins to desperately believe that he can reverse it with the power of the old burial ground.
A Spark of Creativity…
There a few flashes of potential in this adaptation. The choice to focus on Ellie instead of the toddler Gage is wise. Having an older child be the conduit of the chills allows the script to be a little smarter than the 1989 version. As ghoulish as a demonic toddler was, it’s very limiting as an antagonist. Ellie is just old enough to be aware that something horrible has been done to her. Jeté Laurence is charming, and she really sinks into the creepier parts of her role. She’s pretty much the high point of the film.
Some of the visuals in the movie are cool, even though they are one-offs or completely out of place. The procession of masked children to the burial ground is unnerving, even if it makes little sense and is not dealt with ever again. The haunted burial ground looks cool, even if it feels ripped right out of The Wolf Man instead of being in the backwoods of Maine. While I thought the re-working of the magic behind the burial ground was boneheaded, it did offer a chance for a visually distinct mythos. Too bad it is also completely dropped after it serves its purpose. Same with the evil power being able to mimic lost loved ones. It’s used once and just tossed away.
…To Bring a Dull Monster to Life.
Pet Sematary is guilty of being the most inelegant, unsubtle horror flick I’ve seen in a while. The plot plods from point A to point B without any tact. You can see exactly where everything is going, and things are just introduced to move the narrative ahead another five seconds, before being summarily discarded. I was actually agog at how completely artless the direction of this film was. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have made a couple smaller horror films that have good reviews. Their effort here is pedestrian and insulting. I wanted very much to walk out of this film for the first 45 minutes.
Besides the few later scenes with Ellie, there’s not much to the acting in this film. Jason Clarke impresses me as a magnet for uninspired and insipid movies. I can’t say that he’s bad, so much as that he manages to consistently be in lousy movies. Amy Seimetz’ character is purely a plot device to set up the film’s only good scares. John Lithgow feels completely wasted. One of the most versatile actors of a generation, and his Jud is given nothing memorable to say or do. The film is such a paint-by-numbers affair, nobody is really allowed to make an impression.
The most damning part for me was that there was the ghost of a good product here. Had the film decided to really develop any of its ideas, there could have been an interesting movie in this mess. I liked that Jud and Ellie are friends instead of it being a father/son relationship between Jud and Louis. I liked Ellie as the focal point: she’s more engaging, had more potential, and really sold the body horror elements that were criminally under-used. Themes and visual aesthetics could have been developed, but instead are just signposts on a barren trail without interesting twists or turns.
Pet Sematary 2019 is a remake that does not need to exist. A few head fakes are inserted for fans of the novel or 1989 film, but with the exception of subbing Ellie for Gage, they are just winks at the audience. I cannot understand how people cared enough about this rehash to object to the changes. It does 99% of the same stuff, for the same effect. There’s so much more wrong with this film, swapping a few details is the least of them.