Stephen King’s novels are constantly being fed into the Hollywood movie production machine, which is great, because he is a goldmine of ideas. This time, someone decided to throw “Pet Sematary” (1983) into the mix. I’ve never read a King novel, but if someone told me they were great based on what I saw tonight, I’d be shocked.
This year’s version of “Pet Sematary” stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz and John Lithgow. The film follows Louis (Clarke), the father of the Creed family, as they move from Boston into a new home and discover that their property has a pet “sematary” in the backyard. When their cat gets into an accident, Louis and neighbor Jud (Lithgow) bury the cat in the cemetery, which turns out to have strange powers to bring back the dead.
However, the cat comes back to life much differently than it was before. The first film adaptation from 1989 was, I hear, a bit camp, and 2019’s “Pet Sematary” almost veers into that same campiness accidentally. If spooky kids in spooky paper-mache animal masks didn’t nosedive this movie toward cinematic failure right off the bat, I don’t know what could have made this film worth watching.
The acting is perfectly perfunctory, except when it’s not; however, I can’t tell if King actually wrote some of these lines because of their strange delivery. When a zombie ghost grabs our lead and tells us “the ground is sour,” it shouldn’t deflate all tension in the scene. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good scares and some good tension, but it’s all hot air—nothing to stick with you outside the theater, nothing that works its way into your head like a good horror movie should. There’s an excellent theme about how to deal with death, but the movie does not sell it the way I’m sure King does in his novel.
Speaking of writing, the script starts off in a strange way. It gives you a snap- shot of terror in the future, it hits you on the head throughout and it doesn’t let you think too hard. Capping it off, the camera work is fine, the effects and visuals were pretty good and the music was nothing to write home about, even for a modern horror movie.
I don’t recommend seeing this movie for fun, because it’s pretty dry and almost a slog between the bits of horror that only half work. The only saving grace is Lithgow, who tries to work with the script and give his character some character, but everyone is pretty one-note. I’d only recommend “Pet Sematary” for cheap thrills. In the film, we never “root” for anyone, not even for evil itself.
And when the “shocking” new ending came, a wave of relief came over me—not because the horror was over, but because the chore of watching the movie was over. As I walked out, the credits rolled to a cover of the Ramones’ classic song from the 1989 film, and I was a little surprised at the choice considering the dissonance it gives you. If it feels like I’m being cynical, I just want to save you the time and the effort. It’s not completely irredeemable and it’s not truly awful—I just don’t think it’s worth it. If you’re interested in the story, go read the novel.
Contact Peter Hager at [email protected]