“This is a scary movie. Be warned.”
Stephen King’s glowing Twitter endorsement is an all too accurate review of 2019’s adaptation of his classic horror novel, Pet Sematary.
The film is suitably terrifying but be warned, a dumbed down storyline fails to reach the heights of the original book.
Just like they were in 1983, we follow Dr Lewis Creed and wife Rachelle moving from Boston to rural Maine in search of the simple life.
But thanks to the untimely death of their daughter Ellie’s cat, Church (and the exceptionally bad funeral advice of their elderly neighbour) things get complicated.
Church returns alive but not quite right.
And despite this glaringly obvious red flag, the pragmatic Dr Creed uncharacteristially decides to have another crack at that cursed burial ground when someone a little more important bites the dust.
It’s a captivating concept. What would you risk when consumed by grief to bring back the ones you love?
Unfortunately, a streamlined screen-play robs the film of the internal tug-of-war characters feel in the books, and this film is worse for it.
At the center of this problem, is a lack of development for the most important character; the setting.
Maine is supposed to be a town consumed with rumours of the Pet Sematary; a local legend where a friend’s brother’s sister-in-law once buried her brother fast enough to have him resurrected and be about 99% normal.
This time around, only the Creeds’ neighbour Jud seems to know about THE Pet Sematary (hidden behind an actual pet cemetery), and despite knowing the demons it’s capable of producing, Jud leads Lewis directly there to bury Church, because he couldn’t stand Ellie being “sad” because after catching her trespassing in his house, she “touched” him in a way he hasn’t felt since his wife died (get you mind out of the gutter).
Sure, there’s a throw-away comment about the Sematary’s ‘pull’ but that so-called force is never really shown influencing a character’s intent.
Pet Sematary desperately needed a ‘one ring’ moment from Lord of the Rings to understand why these decisions are being made.
Don’t get me wrong, grief is a powerful emotion, but there’s almost no hesitation when Lewis decides to visit the Sematary for a second time.
Because of that, the film hits all the beats you would expect without any particular weight.
Death is obviously a central theme to the film, and directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer spend an inordinate amount of time fleshing out mum Rachelle being haunted by thoughts of sister who carked it when she was a kid.
While these are undoubtedly some of the scariest moment in the film, they do little to contribute to the story. It’s not even all that obvious how this influences her reaction to her ‘reborn’ child later on.
Given how terrified she is of death, having Rachelle embrace her zombie-fied child with open arms might have been a more compelling twist.
That’s not to say the movie is without stellar moments.
Lewis settling into bed beside his undead child is particularly well realised and is easily one of my favourite parts of the film.
This is the best case scenario Lewis could have hoped for and it’s creepy in all the right ways.
‘Sometimes dead is better’, the film’s tagline, oozes out of this scene and it’s a glowing example of some of the great acting on display throughout.
After that however, the film declines into a series of straight forward horror tropes.
A demonic child, stalking through a deserted country home, knife attacks and plenty of blood.
Ultimately, it’s missing one final twist; a defining moment in which Lewis, the man who started it all, decides to reject the Pet Sematary.
For that reason alone, I can’t give Pet Sematary more than a ‘good watch’ (three stars).
Sure it’s scary, and the source material is great, but it’s hard to recommend seeing it over a film like ‘Us‘, when a dumbed down story line fails to keep you guessing until the end.