Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and their two children, Gage and Ellie, move to a rural home in Ludlow Maine, where they are welcomed and enlightened about the eerie 'Pet Sematary' located nearby. After the tragedy of their cat being killed by a truck, Louis resorts to burying it in the mysterious pet cemetery, which is definitely not as it seems, as it proves to the Creeds that sometimes, dead is better.
Stephen King is undergoing something of a renaissance of late, with the two part remake of It, Dark Tower, the upcoming Joyland and now also Lisey’s Story announced as a TV series set to star Julianne Moore [Editor’s Note: Also the Hulu series, Castle Rock]. So what better time to dig up some other classics from the past and dust them off for a fresh audience. King himself once famously admitted Pet Sematary was the only book he wrote that ever actually scared him. The inspiration came in 1979 in his typically trademarked morbid way when his own daughter’s pet cat Smuckey was killed on the highway, at a time when a real pet cemetery was located near his property. This also triggered a memory of an incident where his son once nearly ran into the road as a truck was speeding by. And so Pet Sematary was born. Originally the novel was left in a dark corner for years, and it was only upon his wife’s later persuasion that he published it. The original 1989 movie directed by Mary Lambert may never be considered a true horror classic, but it pretty much did the job of ably condensing the book into a solid adaptation. Albeit without including the deeper meaning of the evil spirit present in the resurrections. But don’t by any means expect just a retread of the original here.Yes the remake does bear hallmark similarities to the original film, in terms of plot and narrative, including the body horror aspect of the origins of Rachels fear of death and her sister Zelda’s condition. There is also the constant spectre of Victor Pascow and what lies behind the dead-fall. But even though there were no new scares as such, it is also strangely truer to the book. Most importantly it ensures that the underlying menace of the presence that ‘returns’ from the ancient burial ground is maintained and highlighted, where once it was cut from the original movie. Along with hints of The Shining and Wicker Man there are also some very different and stark changes, vastly conflicting with both the original film and even the book, that made for an entirely fresh visual perspective.
And although the changes made are key ones that conflict with both other versions I personally consider them vital in terms of keeping the element of surprise. And if you go expecting the same triggers and hooks and sideways looks, be sure that you will be given cause to look at things in a completely different light than before. As well as the changes there is the removal of several unnecessary elements, such as the story told by Jud of Timmy Baterman. Though proving as forewarning of the dire results, it is of little consequence and just slows the overall pace. One other notable change from the older movie however was the reintroduction of the Mi?kmaq tribes Wendigo legend and it’s presence in the woods. Another incidental part of the novel cut from the original movie.
The removal of which had the consequence of diminishing the menacing spirit behind the whole story and sanitising the horror element completely. In the novel Jud brushes the sinister echoing screeching noises off as “just a loon”. Which is both slightly comical and also deeply indicative of his denial of the truth. That line makes a return in this outing and though this was a minor part of the novel it did add considerably to the chill factor. And John Lithgow made me both shiver and chuckle nervously as he delivered so innocuous a line with such deep implications.
Overall the whole cast did an admirable job of conveying the drama, as well as enabling me to feel invested in their tragedy and have empathy for their ordeal. The child actors each gave a realistic and organic performance without making me see them as being clearly bribed or cajoled into their lines, in the annoying way some children are in films. Something quite evident in Miko Hughes’s portrayal of Gage in the original movie. Both Seimetz and Clarke as the parents underpinned things perfectly, each giving a well thought out performance and ensuring they underplayed the initial opening and keeping shmaltz to a minimum, so as to give gravitas to the impact later. Especially given the traumatic nature of the plot and the subject of child mortality. L to R: Amy Seimetz (Rachel), Hugo Lavoie (Gage), Jason Clarke (Louis) and Jeté Laurence (Ellie) PET SEMATARY (PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
The stand out performances for me on the face of it were both Lithgow’s ersatz fatherly concern and Jeté Laurence’s charming innocence, as well as later when the dilemma becomes real and the focus falls on her. Overall the production value was also a vast improvement on the original movie, keeping the sweet and sentimental American sunny aspect of the countryside, yet injecting the same resonance of tragedy and pain that was the haunting legacy of the original novel. The music was suitably punctuated by drum beats, that give a tribal flavor and inform of the roots of the legend, while keeping a ponderously dark edge to the mood. Anecdotally I also noted during the accident scene that the truck driver is distracted by a phone call and the caller ID says Sheena. This is a nod to the original movie as the truck driver was listening to the Ramones ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’. King referenced the Ramones often in the novel and so as a homage they famously wrote the theme song for the movie at Lambert’s request, which was then included on their album Brain Drain. That theme song is again used in the end credits, this time covered by Starcrawler. And much like the film it is a fresh take on an old favorite.
A recipe that uses all the ingredients of the original cookbook, while creating a whole new dish. With a good dose of Americana and recognisable flavors of the last time it was cooked, yet with none of the sanitised aftertaste.
Pet Sematary (2019) I Don’t Want to Live My Life Again
- Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
- Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 9/109/10
- Production - 8/108/10
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