Pet Sematary is a 2019 horror film based on the acclaimed Stephen King novel. The first adaptation of the novel was released in 1989 to generally positive reviews. With the new boom in Stephen King adaptations, beginning with 2017 box office hit It, could this latest adaptation hold up to the source material?
Pet Sematary Synopsis
If you have read the original King novel or have seen the 1989 original, the premise is still the same. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) along with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), and family cat Church move to a remote town in Maine. Louis is hired as a doctor at a local hospital, while Rachel becomes a stay at home mom.
The Creed family soon discovers that their new paradise is shrouded in darkness. Ellie discovers a burial ground for pets, deemed by the locals as the Pet Sematary. The Creed’s neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) befriends the family and begins a kinship with Louis. After a short while on their new homestead, Jud discovers Church dead on the side of the road.
While refusing to tell Ellie the truth on her cat, Jud informs Louis that their might be a way to avoid telling her what happened. Jud and Louis embark on a journey beyond the Pet Sematary to an ancient Native American burial ground. Jud tells Louis to bury the cat and to never tell anyone what they have done that night.
The next morning the family discovers that Church has returned. The family cat is as healthy as ever but has developed a rancid smell and a mean streak. Jud regrets showing Louis the true power of the land and warns him that sometimes dead is better. With the power within the palm of his hands Louis cannot help but wonder what further power the land has.
What I Liked
As a fan of the 1989 original it is hard to not compare the two adaptations. That being said I will wait until the end of the review to state my opinions on the differences between the two films. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer deliver a very drab and dreary atmosphere to the film. The film does have lighthearted moments, but the overall mood of the film fits subtext of the story perfectly.
Pet Sematary is a story about death and mortality, and this film is a good twist on the original King novel. The changes the film makes fit the overall narrative and are a welcome deviation from the King novel. Jason Clarke once again proves he is one of the most underrated leading men in Hollywood. Clarke brings his A game to the film and elevates everyone that is a scene alongside him.
What Could Have Been Improved
Audiences will benefit from having seen either no trailers or just the first trailer that Paramount released. Further trailers reveal a second half twist that so many trailers these days ruin. With that being said I knew of the twist and was interested in seeing where the film would go from there. Unfortunately this twist was not enough to call this a great adaption.
The film takes it’s time to set up the story and build the characters. But as soon as the second half twist happens the film puts the pedal to the medal and never slows down. Most horror films follow this same format. Slow set up then balls-to-the-wall scares into the third act. Pet Sematary benefits when it slows the scares down and focuses on the characters. Much like last years Hereditary, Pet Sematary is at it’s best when it makes the audiences experiences these character’s loss.
I admire the changes the film makes, but the overall film did not capitalize on these differences. What makes the King novel and 1989 adaption work is the suspense that is built by characters dealing with loss, their own mortality, and what it means to be alive. The 2019 adaption is much like the dead when they return from the Pet Sematary, it is a body without a soul.
The secondary characters including Jud, Victor Pascow, and Zelda are almost thrown to the wayside. In the case of Pascow and Zelda it felt like they are in the film just because they are in the novel. John Lithgow is marvelous casting for the role of Jud. But he pails in comparison to the iconic performance by Fred Gwynne in the 1989 adaption.
Pet Sematary Final Thoughts
The 2019 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary is failed attempt to subvert audience expectations. Although it can be applauded that the film differentiated itself from the source, it failed to capitalize on these changes. If you are looking for a film that captures what the heart of the original King novel was, this is not the film. 2019’s Pet Sematary is a soulless film that much like the film’s tagline proves that sometimes a dead franchise is better.
Overall Score 2.25/5