Review - 'Pet Sematary'
We are in a bit of a Stephen King renaissance it would seem, though I would argue that King’s relevance never truly went away, it simply waned for a few years. Recently, It was a massive surprise, two Stephen King novellas, Gerald’s Game and 1922 were adapted into successful films on Netflix and though a bit of a bomb and a critical failure, The Dark Tower still had a good amount of public awareness. This brings us to Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Pet Sematary, a remake/adaptation of one of Stephen King’s more popular works, and if you want a horror film that plays things safe in regards to its source material, this is it.
In this latest iteration of Pet Sematary, the Creed family have moved to the small town of Ludlow in Maine where they have bought a house on a large plot of mostly forested land. The father, Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) discovers a pet cemetery on their property and doesn’t think much of it. Their cat, Church, dies and an elderly neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow) instructs Creed to bury the cat in a mysterious site deep in the forest. Louis is shocked when the cat find its way back home the next day, more-or-less (less) alive-and-well.
While I wasn’t particularly impressed by this film, I was entertained. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer do an admirable job of ramping up the tension and suspense while delivering some truly thrilling scares. That said, if you try to dig any deeper your’e not going to find much more than that. It’s made even more disappointing when you realize that this film doesn’t really have much more new to say than what we got in the original Mary Lambert film. There are some apples-to-oranges switches here and there taht subvert your expectations slightly, but it’s never anything drastic. This is just a better-made version of the first film, and that’s fine, but I was hoping for a bit more.
This ties in to my previous criticism, but another downer about Pet Sematary is that it teases one potential big change from the original, but never expounds on it. Whereas the first film didn’t delve too deeply into supernatural folklore, this one gave me the sense about half-way through that it could, just maybe, have some sort of (mild spoiler) creature lurking in those creepy woods (end mild spoiler). As a big fan of horror movies featuring monsters, having that carrot dangled over my head but never within reach added to my frustration. I wanted it to go all-out in the end, but it wraps up more or less like the first film did.
I will say that Jason Clarke makes a much better lead than Dale Midkiff in the original. Clarke is really good at conveying grief and distress, whereas Midkiff’s performance was much more wooden and monotone. I felt like I could relate to Dr. Creed in this film much more than in the 89’ version, thus making his families plight seem more tragic. Also noteworthy is Jete Laurence, who plays Dr. Creed and Mrs. Creed’s daughter. That said, talking about aspects of her performance would be spoiling the film. John Lithgow also plays a pretty good Jud, though this is the one time where I honestly prefer the previous iteration of the character played by Fred Gwynne.
While Pet Sematary is a functional horror film with some great scares, it fails to conjure up anything more meaningful than that. There are teases at something better and much more interesting, but the film never goes all-in on its more radical ideas, which unfortunately leaves us with a film that’s fun to watch, but ultimately unsubstantial.