Pet Sematary is yet another entry in the long list of movies adapted from the works of Stephen King, and it’s the second adaptation of his 1983 novel of the same name.
As a fan of both the original book and the 1989 adaptation, it seems only fair to judge this remake on its own merits rather than making endless comparisons between the different versions. In fact, one of the things it has going for it is its willingness to set itself apart from the original story, so it only seems fair that we avoid judging it on how faithful it is to its source material.
From this point on, there’s a spoiler warning in effect. So, heads up, if you’ve not read the nearly 40 year old book, maybe do that quickly now. I’ll wait.
Pet Sematary tells the story of Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), a doctor who relocates to rural Maine with his wife and two young children: Ellie, 8, and Gage, 2. Shortly after settling into their new home, they explore the woods on their land to discover a pet cemetery with an eerily/adorably misspelled sign (hence the title). But there’s a power beyond the Pet Sematary; an ancient burial site that has the ability to reanimate the living with horrifying consequences.
The original story has Gage killed by a speeding truck in a moment that plays out like every parent’s worst nightmare. The remake makes a few subtle hints to Gage’s fate throughout the first act, all while building a story that’s surprisingly faithful to King’s original vision – only to subvert expectations by having Louis save Gage, only to have the speeding truck kill Ellie instead.
It’s a textbook switcheroo, but done well enough to inspire some genuine shock even from those familiar with the story, and narratively, it lends a little more weight to the scenes that follow.
Unfortunately, this fake-out was practically the only trick up Pet Sematary‘s sleeve.
Having already been somewhat annoyed at how rarely Gage was actually in the movie – here are Louis, Rachel and Ellie, out in the woods, having apparently left Gage home alone, and here is Louis tucking Ellie into bed, without hardly a mention of her younger brother – Louis’ grief over losing Ellie fell pretty flat.
Therein lies my biggest problem with the movie: Jason Clarke is something of a let-down. He’s one of the most unlikeable protagonists in recent memory, with very little charisma or substance, and Clarke does almost nothing to bring the character to life. Even dealing with the death of his daughter, Louis seems robotic, making no use whatsoever of the depth of his personality in King’s original story.
There’s a few good jump scares, but other than that, Pet Sematary does very little to actually live up to its horror branding. The movie is bleak throughout, and visually, it’s about as interesting as Clarke’s performance. If you’re a fan of endless greys and grumpy protagonists, you’re in for a treat.
John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz give good performances as Jud Crandall, the Creeds’ neighbour, and Rachel, Louis’ wife, respectively, but by far the stand-out star is Jeté Lawrence as Ellie. In life, she’s sweet and thoughtful, and in death, she’s spine-tinglingly creepy.
While Pet Sematary wasn’t without its unsettling notes, but it was a movie of very little substance – which is even more frustrating when you’re familiar with King’s book – making it just another example of vaguely disappointing King adaptations.
Summary: A bang-average horror with very few redeeming qualities. Worth a watch if you’ve got an evening to kill and fairly low standards, but Clarke’s gently off-putting screen presence is wasted on the starring role, leading to an odd, mismatched film.