Pet Sematary is a Refreshing Take on a Classic

Pet Semitary

Pet Sematary (2019) is a fairly fresh retelling of the campy 1989 horror cult classic. As the latest film adaptation of Stephen King's 1983 novel of the same name, you don't need to see the original to enjoy the remake. In fact, if you liked the original you may be let down by this version. The changes make sense to create a story that for all of it's fantastical and paranormal features still retains some believability.

The acting is surprisingly good all around. Jason Clarke plays the main role and head of the Creed family, Dr. Louis Creed. His evolution as a character is personal and relatable, and leaves the audience exploring ideas beyond the scope of the film. Clarke seems unable to do anything right since uprooting his family to the countryside. But the audience is left questioning if his series of bad decisions began even before moving to the secluded house in Maine.

Amy Seimetz takes on the supporting role of the family matriarch, Rachel Creed. Her literally haunting and traumatized childhood is well directed. The entire film is atmospheric but her scenes almost stole the show. Suspenseful but not too slow, uncomfortable while mostly quiet, you feel for both Rachel and her disabled and terminally ill sister Zelda in their scenes; even though one is ostensibly torturing the other.

Pet Sematary explores the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance) well. Each of the main characters embodies at least one stage and remains steadfast or evolves on their views over time. John Lithgow's Jud is familiar with the dangers of “sour” soil in the burial ground but is powerless against the call of the windego. The background yet primary antagonist of the movie, the windego, is an evil force that reanimates and possesses the bodies of deceased beings buried in the burial ground. Lithgow, in his advanced age and experience with returned hostile loved ones, has reached the acceptance stage before the arrival of the Creed family. But it's only after helping bury the Creeds' dead cat Church does he warn Clarke, “Sometimes dead is better.”

Staying on par with seasoned adults means asking a lot from a child actor. We've seen the young Haley Joel Osments, Abigail Breslins, Dakota Fannings and the like command the screen. So watching Jeté Laurence portray ill-fated 9-year-old Ellie Creed just didn't do it for me. In a sub-par movie she would fit in. But the material and the rest of the cast was unfortunately, or fortunately, too good for her. Most people won't mind her performance, especially in latter parts of the film. But I can't help superimposing the likes of Hereditary's Milly Shapiro (Charlie) over her in my mind.

Light on jump scares, except for the booming “truck-scares,” Pet Sematary is well paced for the most part. I never felt the movie dragging, but the third act and finale felt quite rushed. The film could have used a little more cat and mouse, Home Alone style chasing, with each entity trying to outwit and end the other. Plus, in what I can only imagine was a fit of insanity, a single decision would have changed the ending for several characters. But in order to get to the end as written we all know someone needs to lean in instead of get out to push the story forward.

There are some well done nods to the original film I didn't mind. But “the soil of a man's heart is stonier,” and a few other references took me out of the story. Without those forced inserts this film could have been a solid cinematic narrative on its own. But I loved how much little Hugo and Lucas Lavoie reminded me of the cutest kid ever, original Gage Creed toddler actor, Miko Hughes.

All in all I appreciate this rendition of Pet Sematary. It was refreshing to see both restraint and respect in the horror genre. If the scene screams keeps leaning this way true horror will once again pull in and impress real film fans going forward; instead of servicing brain dead, blood-thirsty gore whores.

Pet Sematary (2019) is a genuinely good time. I give it a 7.4 out of 10.