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‘Pet Semetary’ (review)

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura,
Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian

Screenplay by Jeff Buhler
Story by Matt Greenberg
Based on Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Directed by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz,
John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence,

 

Live action adaptations of Stephen King’s stories have always been plentiful, however, for many years they were hardly critically acclaimed blockbusters.

That has all changed, however, after 2017’s It did exceptionally well with both critics and audiences alike, and we now have a remake of Pet Sematary on our hands 30 years after the creepy-but-campy adaptation from 1989.

While the 1989 original was hardly a cinematic masterpiece, it was not considered among the worst of the Stephen King adaptations of that era either, and it managed to create a memorably heart-wrenching moment with the accidental death of a very young child before said child returned from the dead to terrify viewers as a pint-sized, scalpel-wielding zombie.

Initially following largely in the footsteps of the original, we are introduced to the Creed family – and their cat Church, of course – as they settle into their new home in the Maine countryside, complete with huge trucks ominously speeding past their property. John Lithgow seems the obvious choice for the role of the elderly neighbor Jud, as Lithgow (much like Fred Gwynne in the original film) possesses an innate likability, which makes it somewhat more palatable that he is responsible for informing Louis Creed about the supernatural abilities of the soil that lies beyond the eerie, yet innocent pet burial ground in plain view of the Creed residence.

The film moves along the path trodden by its predecessor rather smoothly until certain major plot points are altered. These alterations – which Stephen King has already commented on and given his approval of – will likely divide viewers between those who welcome this change in terms of how it opens up the narrative possibilities for the remainder of the film, and those who feel that it creates a disconnect in terms what made the original film so chillingly tragic.

In addition to the obvious changes to the story, smaller alterations also have an impact. Where the original saw the accidental death of a child being a result of parental negligence more so than the potential meddling of evil forces at play on the Creed property, this scenario plays out rather differently here. As a result, the guilt that to some extent helped justify Louis’ actions in the 1989 film is diminished, making the actions of 2019 Louis seem careless more so than desperate.

Furthermore, the premonitions of daughter Ellie are also absent from the film, which results in the remake instead giving the impression that the evil forces that dwell within the soil of the Indian burial ground are sentient. Again, this may curdle the blood in the veins of some viewers, but much like the major plot alteration – which has already been shamelessly spoiled in trailers for the film – this increased sentience of nondescript forces also somewhat takes away from the repercussions the characters face because of the actions they ultimately were accountable for in the 1989 film.

While the production value of this remake is arguably a significant improvement over the 1989 version with decent performances for the most part, for connoisseurs of horror, the film does little to impress, especially if one is familiar with the original. The narrative structure and scares are predictable thanks to the beat-for-beat recreation of significant portions of the film as well as general, contemporary horror movie trends, and the shift of the protagonists’ accountability.

Lacking the narrative appeal that made the recent It remake work in spite of many deeming it to be more of an adventurous coming-of-age story with horror elements rather than a straight up horror film, Pet Sematary cannot compete narratively as its characters simply act too formulaic to current conventions to make its story and characters truly engaging. Instead, Pet Sematary is mostly an interesting take on a story previously told, which for some will be a standout among current horror films as it at least has good source material to fall back on, whereas others will feel that sometimes dead is indeed better than sitting through yet another remake.

Verdict: 6 out of 10.

 

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