It has been 30 years since the original movie adaptation of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary”. It was a peculiar slice of genre entertainment that was essentially a twisted horror fable on death and loss. And even with King writing the screenplay himself, it never quite overcame the goofiness of its concept to be a truly effective horror film. The same could be said for 2019’s version
The duo of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer direct from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler. Their film follows the same basic blueprint but with a handful of noticeable changes, none of which makes this a particularly better picture.
Jason Clarke plays Louis Reed, a Doctor from Boston who moves his wife, two children, and the family cat (yes, it’s important that I mention the cat) to the idyllic small town of Ludlow, Maine. His hope is to exchange the hustle and bustle of the big city for quiet rural living. It probably goes without saying, but things don’t exactly go as planned.
It starts when his daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) stumbles upon an old pet cemetery in the woods near their house. She bumps into their creepy neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) who warns her that the woods are a dangerous place (as they always are in movies like this). When the aforementioned family cat is killed on the highway Louis sets out to bury it at the cemetery. But Jud recommends a patch of ground deeper into the woods – one apparently built on a studio set yanked straight out of the Dark Shadows television series.
Louis takes Jud’s advice but is stunned the next morning when he discovers the formerly dead cat is (gasp!) alive. He has no believable explanation for his skeptical wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), I mean who would? But things get really hairy when they realize that their kitty isn’t the same cute, cuddly feline he once was. In fact, he has a bonafide mean streak.
That sets the groundwork for the film’s more macabre turn after the family is hit with a far more devastating tragedy. A bad idea gives birth to even worse decisions and the consequences are tremendous. Similar to the 1989 film, there is something to this story that has potential to be both creepy and provocative. But the movie can’t quite nail it down. It’s never able to sell us enough on its premise.
“Pet Sematary” leans on too many genre tropes instead of doing what could have been a lot better – blending in more psychological horror. Also the script has several issues ranging from illogical character actions to underserved side stories. Take Rachel’s lingering mental trauma following a childhood family tragedy of her own. A decent amount of time is put into it yet the story thread never feels particularly relevant. It feels tacked on rather than thoughtfully incorporated into the film.
It’s a shame because there are a handful of decent sequences as well as some clever work with the camera that helps build some much needed tension. And it’s not a movie you have labor through. But it is one that will leave you constantly questioning its logic and always aware of its unfulfilled potential.
VERDICT – 2 STARS