Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, John Lithgow
Director: Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch
That damn cat! It caused all the problems. If only they had buried it like any sensible family, waited a few months, and then acquired another feline, everything would have been fine. But that’s not what happens to this unfortunate family living out in the sticks.
Version two of Pet Sematary does not do justice to Stephen King’s absorbing book, and this screen reincarnation is a gory, slasher-type affair. Co-directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch make a meal of the creepy tale that first surfaced as a movie in 1989. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.
The directors are obviously appealing to a new generation of movie-goers who demand more sensationalism – and that’s what they get. The movie offers plenty of atmosphere and creepy elements, but in the end, it opts for cheap thrills as it slashes its way through the script.
The dynamics of the narrative have also been changed dramatically, which doesn’t improve the story. It’s gruesome and the ending is absurd.
The story concerns a happy family who relocates from Boston to rural Maine. Head of the family Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) has a job at a nearby hospital. His wife is Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and they have two children, Ellie (Jeté Lawrence) and a cute little boy Gage. They also have a cat named Church. What the family don’t realise is that part of their vast property lies within a mysterious pet burial ground which has supernatural powers.
When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his mysterious and unusual neighbour, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), for help and the deed they do in the middle of the night unleashes a perilous chain reaction of unfathomable evil. The movie religiously follows the dictum of all the best horror movies; smart people usually do some stupid things – and the good doctor tops the list here.
Though the 2019 version of Pet Sematary is a great deal better than the insipid 1989 version in the quality of direction, its superior cast, and impressive production design, there are still troubling elements. Blood and gore have replaced the fright factor and as the movie progresses, few genuinely scary moments emerge.
I didn’t appreciate the narrative switch from the original, which produces different shadings to the entire storyline. Some tried-and-trusted devices are employed, including disturbing dream sequences, to bolster the narrative’s thrust – but they become corny.
John Lithgow pops up, playing the Creed’s only neighbour, the lonely widower Jud, who informs Louis of the Native American legends surrounding his property. As Pet Sematary degenerates into sadistic scenes of violence, it attempts to explore larger themes about spirituality and how a family deals with grief and guilt. This production may be ugly but it’s not scary. It’s creepy but certainly not chilling.