Pet Sematary - The Stephen King Story Gets a New Adaptation... But Did We Need It?

Pet Sematary is directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. The film stars Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie, Obssa Ahmed, Alyssa Brooke Levine, and Amy Seimetz. It is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and is the second adaptation of the story, following a 1989 film (which spawned its own sequel not based directly on the novel).

The Creed Family moves away from the big city to escape the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced urban lifestyle, where family patriarch Louis was an ER doctor, and has now taken a post at a university hospital in a smaller town setting. Louis, his wife Rachel, and their kids Ellie and Gage settle into life in their new home, where daughter Ellie meets the eccentric Jud, an aging local who tells her about the local pet cemetery, and much of the local lore. Genuinely touched by the young girl, Jud tries to help the family when their cat dies by burying it in an isolated land beyond the cemetery, but it returns, not quite the same as before. When a larger unexpected tragedy strikes the Family Creed, Louis contemplates using the tainted ground for other purposes… but will there be unexpected consequences?

This is the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (disregarding the original adaptation’s direct sequel which didn’t involve King). Following the success of It back in 2017 (to which the second part will be released later this year), it’s no surprise Stephen King adaptations are once again a hot commodity in Hollywood (not that they ever weren't).

Did we really need another version of this story? I admit, I have some problems with the original film despite enjoying it overall, and believed a new adaptation may be warranted for that reason alone. The new version of the story is excellently cast and tries to take the story in a different direction than its predecessor in the second half. Unfortunately, overuse of jump scares and some underdeveloped and unneeded tertiary elements bog the story down, meaning it’s one step back for every step forward.

Where the film does succeed is its casting and the creation of a creepy, haunting atmosphere. Jason Clarke as Louis easily outdoes his predecessor from the 1989 version of the story (it’s a shame this guy doesn’t get cast in better roles). Also noteworthy are eccentric lifelong town resident Jud, played brilliantly by the underrated John Lithgow (playing the part played by Fred Gwynne of Munsters fame in the original 1989 adaptation), and young Jete Laurence as Ellie Creed, who gets a genuine chance to shine in the film’s second half, following tragic events.

The visuals on screen are frightening as well. With modern production, gorgeous cinematography in haunting locations, and plenty of gory, shocking scenes, it exudes plenty of horror charisma. Say what you will about the movie; the look of the film gets the job done, whether we’re spending time with the family in the car, or exploring haunting ruins beyond the town’s pet cemetery. The level of gore is cranked up as well, so it’s definitely not a movie for the squeamish!

Unfortunately, not everything works in the approach. Yes, there were elements in the original movie which didn’t quite work as well as they should have, and aspects of it seem dated nowadays. Yet, I would still consider it the superior adaptation. The biggest weakness of the new movie is that it overuses jump scares, one of the cheapest tactics to shock and scare the audience. This is a practice which needs to end, and to see any filmmakers still using it in 2019, let alone overusing it, is disgraceful. The fact that they as filmmakers used them in scenes where they weren’t even required or necessary leaves this version of the story well behind its predecessor, which was more carefully paced and didn’t have to fall back on cheap trickery.

I do, however, applaud the new adaptation for downplaying a handful of elements in the original adaptation that didn’t really add anything to the story, namely a troubled relationship between Louis and his in-laws, which added one turbulent scene to that film which had no real bearing on the movie’s plot and felt out of place.

The biggest problem with Pet Sematary, be it the 1989 or 2019 version, is a subplot regarding Rachel’s sister from childhood who was sickly and ill, and died on her watch, traumatizing her. One of the biggest and best things this adaptation could have done (seeing as how it changes other plot elements in its latter half) would have been to excise this plot element , but instead, it rears its ugly head in an ineffective matter once again. This should either have been its own separate story or just relegated to a few lines of dialogue.

While I appreciate the gore and violence, the latter half of the movie, following the narrative changes from the original story and earlier adaptations, becomes almost too violent; it’s just gore for gore’s sake. The earlier version of the film was violent, no questions asked, but here you can’t help but feel like in the latter half the filmmakers are transforming the story into torture porn which gets too far away from its original philosophical themes.

Sometimes dead is better, and Pet Sematary should’ve stayed in the grave. This remake lets its cast shine, but the overuse of jump scares and failure to abort the “Rachel’s sister” plot bogs it down. This is certainly not a bad film; the production values shine through frequently and often, it just isn’t a great or a necessary moviegoing experience. Rent it when it comes out on home formats.

Rating: Two stars out of four.

DISCLAIMER: All pictures in the review are the property of their respective holders, including Paramount Pictures and Di Bonaventura Pictures. For promotional use only. All rights reserved.

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