Pet Sematary Movie Review
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Pet Sematary (2019) feels like southern gothic in the central wilderness of Maine. Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) relocates his family from the hustle and bustle of Boston to the slower pace of country life, settling in an old farmhouse on 150 acres of Maine woods. Louis’ practice starts off with a bloody fatal accident with student Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed), and being run over in the road becomes an unfortunately common theme in Ludlow. He receives a dire warning from the corpse (as one does), but who listens to those, amirite? Ellie (Jeté Laurence) stumbles across a secret, child-maintained pet cemetery in the woods, the family is confronted with death in ways they weren’t prepared for. When Ellie’s beloved cat, Church, is run over in the road, the Creed’s neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) sets Louis on a path he can’t turn from and the temptation to use the mysteriously powerful land behind the deadfall is too great. It’s a slow crawl to total annihilation, and everyone is along for the ride.
And here lies the issue – it’s a slow crawl. For the scenery and the setting and subject matter, we’re too removed to care. We don’t really get to know Lou and Rachel, or Ellie and Gage – they’re paper cutouts of people we should get to know before horror befalls them. We can’t connect to Lou’s stress or Rachel’s (Amy Seimetz) childhood trauma, or Ellie’s displacement or Jud’s loneliness. They’re all going through the motions of being there in that place just a few steps from sour land, but there’s no there there. It feels as wooden as the deadfall, and for all of the emotional trauma, it happens too fast and without impact, because these are people we’ve only just met, and we’re not even sure we like them.
This adaptation introduced us to something common in small, rural towns and rarely seen in urban areas – childhood rituals, passes from sibling to sibling and friend to friend. The solemn procession of masked children through the woods to the Pet Sematary to bury beloved pets felt genuinely creepy and was unique to this adaptation – then it was promptly forgotten. I mean, if you were going to flip the script – wouldn’t it have made sense to have Ellie introduced by a new school chum, the way Jud was when he was a boy? It was a missed opportunity and could have had the potential to really draw Ellie and her family to that place behind the deadfall, where the power flows, and the land feels wrong.
Fans of the original Mary Lambert-helmed Pet Sematary (1989) adaptation (count me among them) can remember the distinct feeling of sitting in the theater and mentally following along with the book firmly in our minds. That adaptation, though faithful, felt hollow as well, which tells me it’s not necessarily the direction, but the source material. Screenwriter, Jeff Buhler mixes up the trauma by switching Gage for Ellie, and in the end, while different, follows the natural conclusion of the book had there been another 50 pages.
There are moments that stab your heart with fear, like Church’s resurrection, the giant Orinoco truck that speeds in front of their house, and Victor Pascow’s disturbing visage. In a made-for-TV movie, that’s okay. However, for a cinematic experience, it falls short in more than a few places. The heart of King’s tale is there and many of the now familiar lines are still said, if by different people at different times. The soil of a man’s heart is indeed stonier, and adaptations are trickier to pull off than they appear.
Pet Sematary is rated-R for swears, lots of blood, dead animals, resurrected animals, dead kids, resurrected kids, stabbing, slicing, and impaling.