Directed by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Pet Sematary is a grim, self-serious and nearly identical remake of the odd 1989 film of the same name. I’m surprised to find such rigid devotion to the source material considering that older film was kind of atrocious. In fact this film, while not exactly bad, is similarly atrocious. So I guess that conjures up the question, can a movie be atrocious but not bad?
In Pet Sematary we meet a young family as they move to a classically Stephen King picturesque quaint little town, where of course horror lurks in the shadows. Louis (Jason Clarke) is a doctor, his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) is his wife, and his children are his children. They are rather underdeveloped and instead just fleshy caricatures to be sliced, diced and impaled.
When the family cat, Church, dies, an older neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow) introduces Louis to a pet graveyard in the woods just off (or still on) their property. He doesn’t explain the mystifying power of the burial ground just yet, instead choosing to wait until after the cat inexplicably shows up the next morning, a zombified and more feral version of itself.
When Louis’ daughter is later pummeled by a speeding truck (a notable fake out considering it’s the son who dies in the original), Louis, consumed by understandable grief, decides to bury her in that pet graveyard so that he can have her back. He does this without consulting his wife, and as we know any good relationship requires communication.
So that’s it, she comes back a sort of zombie intent on wreaking havoc, and the fleshy caricatures are done in by their own crimes.
It’s so pulpy. I haven’t read Stephen King’s novel, but there seems to be so much potential here to tell a horrifying tale of grief and a family ripped apart. Instead the family is so vapid and at all times ready to appear in a magazine spread that nothing is really explored beyond the superficial, gory thrills that are inherent to just about any horror film.
It’s not easy to watch if you’re squeamish, which I am (I happen to like my achilles), and there are individual moments that are particularly horrifying, but that has more to do with grossing out the audience. The true horror of Louis and Rachel’s experience isn’t examined, just insisted.
The whole movie moves too quickly to really dig into any of this. It’s plot point after plot point, certainly overstuffed so that nothing ever lingers. And yet the movie has a real stench, so it should linger. I mean the premise alone is truly disturbing, partially just because of the obvious horror but also because of the main character’s participation in that horror.
Louis is the film’s main antagonist, or I should say his grief is, in the second half. He drives everything that comes later and will end up paying for his own sins. But that ostensible power is that his behavior is slightly understandable even if ill-advised. He’s a grieving parent who wants his daughter back and will go too unnerving lengths to make that happen. It’s all the more horrifying when he so quickly realizes his mistake after she returns.
So in terms of what happens, well it’s grotesque and should be effective, but because of how it is portrayed, both here and in the 1989 version, it’s almost laughable. This is effective as a genre movie I suppose because it’s eerie and frightening, but it’s also not very fun to think about. Maybe this has more to do with personal taste, but my favorite horror films do demand further thought even after they’re over.
Once Pet Sematary ends it just ends. It’s unlikely you’ll give it another thought once it’s over, but hey, the original seemed to work much in the same way. So is this source material just something that can’t be translated to the screen or was the handoff fumbled twice over?
So this is what I mean by it being atrocious but not bad. It’s a straight down the middle horror movie that favors the cheap scares and grotesque imagery over character building. They are established only enough so that you remember their names before they die.
Up Next: Sword of Trust (2019), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), Faults (2014)