Title: Pet Sematary
Describe This Movie Using One Simpsons Quote:
LISA: Dad, we did something very bad!
HOMER: Did you wreck the car?
HOMER: Did you raise the dead?
HOMER: But the car's okay?
LISA/BART: Uh huh.
HOMER: All right, then.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Man meddles in forces beyond his control, yadda yadda yadda.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 monkey's paws out of 5
Tagline: "Sometimes dead is better."
Better Tagline: "Using spinal meningitis to scare the shit out of you since 1989."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: This new home in rural Maine has everything, thought Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz), including close proximity to a really busy highway and its very own pet cemetery right there on the property. And who's that? Why it's kindly neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who can't wait to tell Louis about the colorful history of what lies in the woods beyond.
"Critical" Analysis: 2017's It grossed $700 million worldwide, simultaneously making it the most profitable horror movie of all time and proving the financial viability of Stephen King stories about stuff other than kids finding a body, bankers escaping prison, or magical death row inmates.
That Paramount decided to remake Pet Sematary instead of going with a different property isn't all that shocking. The original, released almost exactly 30 years before this one, was one of the few middle-era King adaptations that did well at the box office. Guess that means we probably shouldn't hold our breath for that Maximum Overdrive reimagining.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, this newer Pet Sematary eliminates some backstory and wisely switches the tragic focus from son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) to daughter Ellie (a stellar Jeté Laurence). The same emphasis is given to Rachel's lingering trauma resulting from being left alone with her sister Zelda, who was afflicted with spinal meningitis (as in the original, the Zelda scenes are pretty much the scariest ones), but the animosity between her parents and Louis is barely touched upon.
Aside: you'll be on Team Louis nevertheless, when you realize his wife's parents are still living in the same house. Not putting Rachel in therapy every week is almost as neglectful as leaving her to take care of her sick sister.
The performances in the aggregate are improved this time around. It's not that Seimetz is better than Denise Crosby (she is) or Lithgow is better than Fred Gwynne (he isn't, and he doesn't even take a stab at that Mainer accent), it's that Clarke is a much more believable/sympathetic Louis than 1989 Dale Midkiff could ever dream of being.
Pet Sematary (2019) is somewhat more accomplished in its scares as a result, but the "what if we could bring our loved ones back?" angle was well-worn territory even before King took a stab at it. And unfortunately what works in the book — in this case, deliberations on parental grief and loss — loses something in translation, like so many adaptations of King's work.
Specifically, the choice facing Louis after his terrible loss would give pause to any grieving parent, but neither Clarke, Kölsch, Widmyer, nor writer Jeff Buler can really capture this in the time allotted them. And it's hard to explain why Louis goes through with it even after Church the cat comes back from beyond in a what can chairtably be called a "surly" mood.
In his defense, maybe Louis assumed resurrection enhances the personality you had when you were alive. Cats are assholes, so it only follows that Church would be an even bigger one when he returned. And besides, it's not really fair to blame Louis when Jud was right there. He could've kept his big mouth shut from the get go, especially considering what happened with his own damn dog.
Though there's some appreciable dread building throughout the film, it never blossoms beyond the mildly unexpected. The scares are intermittently effective, but surprisingly tame given the "R" rating. It'd be nice to see a cast this talented put to work in something original, because this reanimated Pet Sematary is pretty lifeless.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.