Death is a natural part of life, but it is also one of the most controversial subjects of our society. Everyone processes the concept in a different way. Some are able to accept it and move on, not letting the loss of a loved one cloud their judgement, while others aren’t so lucky. The death of someone they were close to can scar them emotionally with the thought of never seeing them again, especially when they’re a kid.
Well, death is about to become a subject of worry for the Creed family, doctor Louis (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and their kids Ellie (Jeté Lawrence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). They have recently moved to the quaint little town of Ludlow to escape the hustle and bustle of Boston. However, it doesn’t take long for them to discover that their new property comes with an ancient pet cemetery (misspelled “sematary”).
When the family cat Church is killed by a speeding truck, the Creed’s neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) decides to reveal the town’s biggest secret to Louis. Beyond the pet sematary is an ancient burial ground, created by Indians long before Ludlow was founded. The ground carries to supernatural ability to bring dead things back to life. Unfortunately, what ever is buried there doesn’t come back like it was, and Louis will discover that bringing back loved ones isn’t as easy as it sounds.
We appear to be experiencing a resurgence of Stephen King adaptations. True they’ve never really gone away, but this is the first time in a while that big studios are pouring good amounts of money into these films. And for the most part, they’re turning out pretty well. The 2017 adaptation of It was one of the best films of that year, even if the adaptation of The Dark Tower a month earlier wasn’t as good.
Now this rising craze has reached another one of King’s most famous novels, Pet Sematary, which was previously adapted back in 1989. With a higher budget and a larger cast compared to the original version, a lot was stacked against this new version. It’s also difficult to do a story about zombies these days and make it seem fresh. There have been so many and it feels like a well-worn genre at this point.
So, does this new version come alive, or is it as sour as the ground Ludlow sits on? While it may not live up to some of its expectations, Pet Sematary is one of the few Stephen King films that not only provide scream-worthy scares, but also a few moments of heart and emotion. We were given characters that we could care about when all Hell breaks, as well as a few surprisingly tearjerking moments along the way.
What makes a good horror film is the atmosphere, creating a dreary feeling that help us to figure out that something scary is coming for us. This is one thing this film gets right. Right from the start, we get the feeling the nothing is as it seems in Ludlow, which is further amplified by deep and dense forests that surround the Creed home and the sematary. It creates a claustrophobic environment that helps amp the scares.
Unfortunately, here lies the first mistake to bring up. While the tension in the film is effective, it doesn’t tend to stick around long. The build-ups are great. The jump scares are greats. The only problem is that after the scare, the tension dissipates very quickly. It doesn’t stick around long enough for us to sit there in fear of what will come next. Now there are a couple moments where they manage to do this, and there lies some of the best scares in the film. But for the most part, it’s setup, scare, then they’re done.
One of the advantages of this new version is the larger cast it has compared to the original, though not that much larger. But with talents like John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, you should expect some great performances from the likes of them, and they certainly do deliver. Clarke once again proves he seems to be a perfect fit for horror films, and Lithgow delivers another great performance as always.
The one performance everyone is talking about is that of the young Jeté Lawrence. She did give a great performance when she was brought back from the dead. Her portrayal of a scary, zombified kid is actually pretty scary. However, she’s not very compelling beforehand. For most of the film, when she’s alive, she comes off as a pretty annoying kid. It’s only after she rises from the dead that she really gives an unsettling performance.
If you watched the trailers, you know that this version makes some very big changes from the source material (none of which will be named). However, an essential part of adapting a novel into a film is to give it new life. You need to change some things so the audience doesn’t expect what’s going to happen, while still trying to stay true to the book so fans feel like they got what they wanted. This manages to do both.
Pet Sematary takes advantage of its modern assets to deliver a film that outdoes its previous version, while also staying true to the spirit of Stephen King’s talent for horror. Sure the tension slows in places and it doesn’t really live up to expectations, but it makes up for it with a surprising amount of effective scares and some unexpectedly emotional moments. If studios continue put more effort into adapting the legendary author’s stories, we could see more great films based on his work.