Pet Sematary villainises the two beings I like most; animals and children. Maybe that’s why I laughed nervously a few times throughout this supernatural horror flick — it’s not often you see evil kids and equally evil cats scare and hurt adults in a film. I believe the last time we saw this was in the last Pet Sematary (1989), a mediocre film based on the Stephen King novel, upon which this remake only improves slightly.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, Pet Sematary is something of a mixed bag. The performances are fine, the mood atmospheric, but it never gets scarier than creepy. A big reason for this is the clumsy nature of the script.
The narrative is about the Creed family. The main character is Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), who has moved from big city Boston to a small town called Ludlow, Maine, with his wife Rachel, their cat Church, and their two little kids Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie). Being a Stephen King universe (yes, there is a nod to it), spooky stuff begins pretty soon.
Pet Sematary is something of a mixed bag. The performances are fine, the mood atmospheric, but it never gets scarier than creepy
To start with, Louis’s daughter comes across a group of children taking a dead dog to the woods for a funeral. Of course, they are all dressed like little psychopaths. Here, neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) delivers cryptic warnings to the family. To make matters worse, Louis is unable to save the life of a student, and the young man haunts Louis’s dreams later, delivering further cryptic warnings about the cemetery. Oooh, creepy stuff.
Then, and if you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know this, the cat is run over by a truck. Naturally, the feline is buried where the newcomers were warned to stay away from. The next day, it comes back with eight lives still intact to the shock of the family and behaves disturbingly violently. Then, and again if you’ve seen the preview you’ll know this, Ellie is run over by a tanker while chasing the cat. Here, Louis has the bright idea of resurrecting his daughter like the cat, and then Ellie comes back the next day from the dead like she’s an extra in a Michael Jackson video.
If you feel I’ve given too much away, then keep in mind that this is not even the first act. You could say that Pet Sematary truly starts at this point, though unfortunately, it takes off like a car that needs its spark plugs checked. The narrative features a lot of heavy-handed exposition that should have been implemented with more skill. For instance, a lot of the characters just look at each other and yammer the backstory. It’s just lazy writing.
John Lithgow is the best part of the film, though Jason Clarke isn’t as engaging as he should have been as the main character.
As I said, many of the performances are adequate. John Lithgow is the best part of the film, though Jason Clarke isn’t as engaging as he should have been as the main character. This could be because the characterisation of Dr Creed is bland.
Pet Sematary also offers some interesting commentary on the meaning of life and death, but doesn’t dig deep enough to deliver a compelling take. While the film has its moments, it simply doesn’t do enough to justify its rise from the dead.
Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language
Published in Dawn, ICON, April 14th, 2019