Those who have kept their eyes close to the advertising material for the 2019 edition of Pet Sematary will well be aware that directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (the duo behind 2014’s praised but little seen horror outing Starry Eyes) have deviated drastically from Stephen King’s original source material. So drastically in fact that enthusiasts were heavily divided on the directing duo’s choice of narrative change to the point that they were both worried that Paramount Pictures had revealed a little too much in the process as well as assuming that this latest King adaptation would be more Dark Tower disappointment rather than It success.
Safe to say though that Kolsch and Widmyer had more than a few aces up their sleeve with this process, and although you may be expecting certain story beats 2019’s Pet Sematary is an entertaining, sporadically spooky, but steadily stimulating horror offering that enjoys playing with the conventional tropes of the supernatural sub-genre.
If you aren’t familiar with King’s novel or the original 1989 film you needn’t fear, Kolsch and Widmyer have constructed a feature that works on its own accord. After an ominous opening shot that sets up a tragic set-piece we can only assume the film will climax towards, we’re quickly introduced to the Creed family, lead by loving dad and husband Louis (Jason Clarke). Ready to escape the bustle of city life Boston for the more relaxed lifestyle of rural Maine, we’re under the impression that the change is so he can spend more quality time with wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two young children, 8-year-old daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) and 3-year-old son Gage (twin performers Hugo and Lucas Lavoie).
Not long after moving into their new property – a vast farmhouse that’s eerily close to a main road (a foreshadowing?) – young Ellie spots a procession of suitably creepy children in the back-lands of their extended yard, banging drums and carrying a deceased animal into a section of land dubbed “Pet Sematary”; the misspelling driving home their young age, which in turn only adds an extra layer of disturbance to the imagery of children donned in animal masks walking in unison to perform a burial of sorts. It’s here in the midst of this upsetting discovery that the family now technically own that section of land that they meet next-door neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), a reclusive but ultimately well-meaning elderly gentleman who informs Louis and Rachel of the titular cemetery and the departed pets it contains; of course this being Stephen King means there’s something far more sinister at play.
As mentioned earlier that directors Kolsch and Widmyer, as well as screenwriter Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train) and story artist Matt Greenberg (Halloween H20), have altered the original story in a manner neatly removed enough from its source material to feel fresh and unexpected, Pet Sematary clearly enjoys subverting expectations. There’s a dark sense of humour that lingers over the material, not so much in a a jokey sense but the morbid situations the Creed family find themselves in definitely earn a knowing chuckle or two; a scene towards the later half of the film involving a hairbrush is likely to induce both squirms and squeals of laughter.
As scary, humorous, and occasionally gory the film is – look out for a sequence involving an achilles tendon and a blade – Pet Sematary perhaps most succeeds in its depiction of addressing grief and how difficult it is to let a lost one go. The tragedy that strikes the Creed family, the manner in which Louis deals with it, and Rachel’s own personal demons relating to her childhood provides the film a layer of depth many would not be expecting from a product that revolves heavily around undead animals. As the tagline states that “Sometimes dead is better”, this 2019 incarnation proves that sometimes injecting life into a tested story can be beneficial too.
About Pet Sematary
Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbour Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences.
Pet Sematary (MA15+) is screening in Australian theatres from April 4th 2019.