Friday Film Review - "Pet Sematery"

Apr 12, 2019

There's a new version of "Pet Sematery" the classic Stephen King novel about a cursed burial ground, an undead cat, and Family Values gone very wrong.

This new version of the Stephen King novel “Pet Sematery” highlights one of its most famous lines— “Sometimes, dead is better.”

That could also refer to Hollywood’s dismal history in the past 15 years, of again and again, going back to some classic from the Eighties, and coming up with a lame replica.

This newest effort, at least, may catch you off guard—but to what end?

As in the original story, the film focuses on young doctor Louis Creed (played by square-jawed Everyman actor Jason Clarke).  He moves his family out of Boston to a new home in the woods of Maine—and in the process, gets in the record books for Worst Due Diligence for a Real-Estate Purchase Ever. Their residence is right next to a highway marked by the appearance of monstrous, high-speed semi-trucks that barely make a noise before they mow down unfortunate dogs and cats and other roadkill.

The film looks at first like a by-the numbers repeat of the older film, as Louis discovers a pet cemetery and beyond that, an ancient Native American burial ground where the Departed don’t stay in the ground.    The neighbor who half-reluctantly reveals the secret, old Jud Crandall is played by John Lithgow in a grandfatherly, low-key fashion.     (It’s like Lithgow knows he can’t match Fred Gwynne, who had such odd gravitas that he wound up as a regular meme on “South Park.”)

The film-makers try to amp up the story we know. The woods are spookier, the closets are darker, the jump-scares are jumpier, and the mangled corpses are manglier—especially Victor Pascow, the dead college student whose spirit tries to warn Louis.

“Pet Sematery” is still a tragedy about a man who can’t deal with the unpredictable certainty of death.

But then the film-makers throw a curveball. Namely, the child brought back from the undead isn’t little toddler Gage (who was, amazingly played in the 1989 film by a three-year-old.) This time, it’s older child, Ellie.

This sparks some promise in the film because young actress Jete Laurence is so effective switching from quietly sweet to threatening and creepy.

But the film’s two directors and two screenwriters (all with a background in journeyman horror flicks) go more and more over-the-top in re-writing Stephen King. For instance, Louis’s wife Rachel (nicely played by Amy Seimetz) is still haunted by the memories of caring for her monstrously twisted dying sister but this time is carrying even more Guilty Baggage. There’s also a tendency to load the characters with over-explanatory dialogue that defuses the tension.

The calamity that sweeps over the family is darker, more brutal.   Let’s not reveal any more details—but just say the new story might be more fitting for the era of “The Walking Dead.” More effective? I’m not sure.

“Pet Sematery” 2019 is a determined, but somewhat foolhardy effort to plant something new in old, stony ground. Let’s mark it with two-and-a-half stars out of five.