After the second trailer for the remake of Pet Sematary dropped, there were some divisive reactions. Remakes in general are not always well received, and for every good Stephen King adaptation like It, we get a Dark Tower or two. With the new Pet Sematary, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer take some major departures from the source material that made people think the marketing for the film gave away everything. But the Starry Eyes directors have more aces up their sleeves. This new remake dares ask to ask: What if dead was not better?
Those not familiar with the novel or film need not worry, however, for Pet Sematary is a highly entertaining, terrifying, and fun movie all on its own. Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) is tired of the city life, so he decides to move his family from Boston to rural Maine to spend more time with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and their two young children, 8-year-old Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and 3-year-old Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). One day Ellie discovers a procession of kids in creepy animal masks heading to a mysterious burial ground in the woods near the family’s new home. There, she meets her neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who tells the story of the titular pet cemetery that houses beloved and departed pets (and, because this is Stephen King we're talking about, also something more ancient and sinister).
At 101 minutes, Pet Sematary has a great pace that makes it feel like the movie is shorter than it is, leaving you wishing you could see more of this twisted tale. By nature of the story, the major scares don’t begin until about halfway through the movie, but Buhler is an impatient writer and the script wants to scare you as soon as it can--and it succeeds. There are plenty of smaller scares that whet your appetite for the madness that will follow.
The film doesn’t shy away from showing you some horrific and gory stuff, including a scene in which a character's face is half scraped off with his brain hanging out from his skull. It’s an unnerving and visceral sight that will have horror fans cheering in the theater. And those expecting a certain scalpel to play a part in the film should be excited for Pet Sematary, as the scene in question is as gory as you would expect.
There are plenty of surprises both for longtime fans of the story and those coming in blind. The script by Jeff Buhler expects you to be familiar with the story, because it wants to make you feel like you know what is going to happen next. You anticipate the pivotal moments from the older movie and the book, right before Buhler pulls the rug from under you and makes you jump in fear or laugh at the clever ways the script and Kölsch and Widmyer’s direction subverts expectations.
One of the biggest changes takes place in an elaborate and tense scene that acknowledges the audience expectations and then hits you in the face with a truck. It is also a change that works perfectly for this adaptation. Pet Sematary takes full advantage of this change to explore questions about mortality, grief and what we would do if we were in that situation.
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One of the most interesting aspects of the story is how it addresses grief, and how hard it is to let go of loved ones after they die. Jeté Laurence plays Ellie with a nuance not commonly seen in such young actors. Jason Clarke is great as Louis, but it is Amy Seimetz as Rachel who is the highlight of the film. Rachel has a bigger character arc in this version of the story, exploring her proximity to death more closely. And fans of Zelda need not worry, as Pet Sematary takes her part in the story and elevates it to new and more horrific heights.
Despite having plenty of gruesome imagery, Pet Sematary is also morbidly funny. Buhler’s script and Kölsch and Widmyer’s direction doesn’t rely on jokes, but on the messed-up situations the Creed family gets involved in. This is a pitch-black film with a bleak third act that also features a scene with a hairbrush that will have audiences squirming and laughing at the same time.
In an age where every film is getting a remake or a reboot, Pet Sematary might actually be better than the original. It's terrifying, twisted, heartbreaking, morbidly funny, and a hell of a fun time.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Third act is bananas in all the twisted and dark ways imaginable||John Lithgow doesn’t have as much to do as one would expect|
|Jeté Laurence is a revelation||Will turn you off from wanting to have kids|
|Smart changes from the source material|
|Doesn’t shy away from being gory and morbidly funny|
|Hypnotic score by Christopher Young|