‘Pet Sematary’ Review: Trades a Poignant Grief Metaphor for Generic Horror Fodder

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I’ve yet to read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but from what I do know about it, it’s a novel all about how grief after the loss of a loved one can take on the form of one’s own worst nightmares. That alone would cover the basics of what defines Stephen King’s stories, for he’s a writer who has always been able to come up with wonderful concepts for horror literature, but they don’t quite always work yet his name has only ever remained popular enough in order to spawn numerous film adaptations over the years. This is the second adaptation of Pet Sematary to grace the screen after Mary Lambert’s 1989 take, with a screenplay by Stephen King himself. Based on the reputation that I’ve already known said film adaptation would have acquired I was hoping that at the very least a new take would feel more enticing but everything that has made the core concept so thoughtful and wonderful is all gone in this version. It came to that point where I don’t really know if this feels anything like what I would imagine Stephen King would be writing, because it only ever really rang as generic horror fodder.

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Married couple Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) move to an isolated home in Ludlow, Maine with their children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (twin brothers Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie). Their new neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) also warns the family of the haunted “pet sematary” in the woods behind their new home, and not to approach the area. This is also what soon sets the course of events for what happens later on in the film, and thus hints at what’s set to happen eventually after tragedy strikes the family one after another. There’s an incredibly engrossing story to be told out of a premise like this, but it seems as if the focus on the monsters that come from beyond only get more focus not as symbols of what will come to be but rather just as your average horror movie monsters – only serving their purpose and leaving so soon after that. Which would be fine enough, if the movie had another approach beyond shallow nihilism in order to make its imagery appear menacing.

Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer only ever really seem to take the most basic approach in telling a story about the entity behind the titular Pet Sematary, and it’s also what drags everything to a grinding halt. But throughout the film I only ever found myself puzzled by every decision made one after another, not out of the stupidity of the actions but rather what point they only ever really seemed to serve. They seem to have set up a great visual eye, yet not so much the atmosphere – first with having a jump scare come out from the sound of a passing truck (one example of incredibly obvious foreshadowing of what’s to come), and outright having zero interest in what made the Pet Sematary so significant. But it also seems to say a lot that a passing truck is far scarier than the actual Pet Sematary, which is not a good sign for a movie all about the impending doom hinted right from what happens at the Pet Sematary. But even the build-up to each scare seems to be served through exposition or on-the-nose speeches, which makes the actual reveal feel underwhelming by comparison.

This film’s ending has changed drastically from that of the source material, which shouldn’t be a bad thing given how much The Shining had changed from the novel too – but it was purely eye-rolling in this case. From what I do know of the novel, the nature of this ending only ever feels like a pure betrayal of its own source material by taking away everything that made it meaningful. It’s a change like this that feels as if it were undermining what made Stephen King’s work so resonant. But it seems like Kölsch and Widmyer were only interested ever in turning this story into generic horror fodder, to that point they chose a screenplay that evidently doesn’t care in the slightest about its characters or meaning anything far more than just being a shallow experience from start to finish. At the very least, you’ll have good performances from John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz trying to make everything sound interesting, but I’m hoping to see Jeté Laurence in more things in the future because I can already see potential from her performance.

Pet Sematary is every bit as lean and mean as one would want for it to be, but that also does not excuse it from ever being as much of a slog as it is. Yet with this only being my first exposure to the source material, I feel like there’s something that could be made into a more poignant tale of grief like I know Stephen King would have envisioned. It’s a shame that none of that was ever realized here, rather you have a horror movie that only ever takes the most generic possible approach to that point it even betrays that very essence that made Stephe King resonate. If this is supposedly better than the original film by Mary Lambert, I’d be even more fearful for what was to come in said version, yet I still have my own doubts that it would really be the case. If meaningless nihilism is your thing, then Pet Sematary is the perfect movie for you. But I only ever sat down wondering if this movie was really two hours long, for it only ever felt longer than its given 100 minute long running time. When they say that sometimes dead is better, perhaps dead was better after all for Pet Sematary. At least the cat is adorable.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via Paramount Pictures.


Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Screenplay by Jeff Buhler, from the novel by Stephen King
Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Steven Schneider
Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie
Release Date: April 5, 2019
Running Time: 100 minutes

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