Stephen King’s IT reboot was a phenomenal success. So it’s only natural for directors Kevin Kolsh and Dennis Widmyer to feel a little pressured when resurrecting PET SEMATARY – arguably one of Stephen King’s darkest titles. On top of box office and fan expectations, Kolsh-Widmyer has the difficult task of keeping the film fresh, as the script sticks closely to the 1983 novel, much like the 1989 adaptation. The challenge, again, feels like its cousin IT.
Does the film succeed? Well, partly.
The Creed family moves to the sleepy town of Maine to adjust their pace of life. Everything is perfect, until they realise two things about their property that mars their picture-perfect new lifestyle. The first, is the house’s proximity to a road frequented by speeding heavy vehicles. This is quickly introduced when they move, and provides an instant rattling start.
The second, is the existence of a pet cemetary (written incorrectly as “sematary” by a child) where local town kids go to bury their animals in. This particularly does not sit well with Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz), for reasons we will find out later.
Ellie Creed (Jete Laurence), the curious daughter that she is, begins investigating the site, before being warned away by her neighbour and new friend, Jud (John Lithgow). She also starts asking pointed questions about death, which stirs up conflict between Doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), who believes there’s nothing after death, and her mother Rachel, who believes there’s life after death.
This would all remain philosophical, if not for the fact that Church, the family cat, becomes roadkill. Afraid of how the girl will react, Jud brings Louis past our pet cemetary to an ancient burial ground, where he instructs him to bury the cat. Why? Because it brings back the dead.
As you can imagine, this soon spirals out of control when a member of the Creeds gets killed by another truck.
PET SEMATARY should have been a compelling case study on death, grief, choices and boundaries. Instead, it never gains traction or believability. The dichotomy’s potential never really manifests as a struggle, and feels more like a hacked approach to give the characters some irrelevant back story.
One of the best side arcs in the book, Rachel’s anxiety comes from a secret guilt. Forced to take care of her deformed sister Zelda (Alyssa Levine) with spinal meningitis when she was young, she thought it better that her sister was dead. This, unfortunately, becomes true one day when her sister falls down the dumbwaiter which she uses to send food up. This spectacular struggle between Rachel’s guilt and relief should have been unravelled with greater effect, but the directors seemed to use the flashbacks as horror interludes featuring some body horror moments.
Even Jud’s behaviour is erratic and senseless. His decision to take Louis to the mi’kmaq burial ground is baffling, and one that he explains copiously to the point that it feels like a cop-out.
One of the most memorable characters in the original novel and film, was Victor Pascow. As the ghost of a deceased student that the doctor tried to help, he is harbinger to the events to come and even steers the characters in some cases. The newest Victor (Obssa Ahmed) is nothing more than an apparition that warns and gets ignored.
And that’s the thing. The novel and original adaptation moves more organically, with motivations that becomes divisive in philosophy that gives great conflict, and side arc reveals that add to the unbearable despair of death (such as the housekeeper who hangs herself because of the pain from cancer).
In comparison, PET SEMATARY is a straight line, crafting horror elements in isolated story pods that don’t come together cohesively.
And to be honest, Louis is an ultra bland lead. The out-of-control spiral that is core to the story plods along here, rather than develop with believable intention. In particular, Louis’s despair at losing his child is as sudden as it is annoying, because his mania comes across incredibly contrived.
While creative decisions try to refresh PET SEMATARY with new twists, it eventually just comes across like a pastel coat of paint on a gothic house – ill-fitting.
A patchy handling, with transparent scripting that got distracted from the core philosophy horror, makes this newest adaptation all about missed opportunities.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com