Director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow
Screenplay: Jeff Buhler
101 mins. Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language.
Pet Sematary is a haunting novel by Stephen King, one which he claims he almost regrets publishing because it was too dark, even for him. Now, that sounds like a lovely little marketing statement. In all fairness, the novel stayed with me long after finishing it. The original film was fine enough, and it surprisingly retained a lot of the more disturbing elements that one would possibly try to avoid, but I think it’s fair to say that someone should take another crack at it. This year, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes, Holidays) did just that.
Louis (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, Serenity) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color, Wild Nights with Emily) Creed have just moved into their new home in Ludlow, Maine with their kids and pet cat. Louis has a new job working at the university hospital. After some time in the new home, the Creed family cat, Church, dies, and their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) brings Louis to a space located just beyond the Pet Sematary behind the house. Louis buries Church there, and soon after, Church is up and walking again. But something is different with the family cat. He smells like rotted flesh and bites and scratches whenever possible. Louis begins to learn a painful secret about the Pet Sematary, one that will stay with him as further tragedy strikes: whatever is buried out beyond the Pet Sematary comes back, just not the same as it was, and sometimes dead is better.
I would have liked to see Andy Muschietti’s interpretation of the classic novel. The It director had expressed interest in attacking this one, but Kölsch and Widmyer got to it first, and the result is…fine. It has an awesomely grim view of the Creed family saga, and the changes to the story are interesting, but I failed to understand why such changes needed to be made. In effect, the changes to the story for this version of the film almost make it tamer than the previous film, an odd thing that I had not expected.
What’s confusing about the changing of most of the back-half of the film and the ending, apart from the notion that it really offers nothing new to the story, is that the film frequently makes small, almost unnoticeable references to the source novel and how it plays out. It kind of just reminds you of how the story is different, and that doesn’t work well for it. The film of course makes plenty of references to King’s other works, but it is the ones that reference tiny details of the novel that seemingly have no point being in the film.
Clarke and Seimetz are perfectly fine with the material, and Lithgow is expertly cast in a way that he offers an interesting character from the book a very unique and welcome interpretation. His is the best performance in the film.
There’s still a lot of the film that works really well, too, from the performances of the two children and the several real cats that played Church to the constant sense of dread that the directors placed over the proceedings. The scares are still there, and there’s some gruesomely haunting imagery in the film, all of it serves to unnerve its audience quite well. I found the experience quite enjoyable, but the problem was, about a day after seeing the film, I had forgotten much of what I really liked about it. The film didn’t stick with me the same way the source novel did, and that’s a damn shame.
Pet Sematary is an enjoyable albeit disturbing little movie that I enjoyed upon seeing. It’s also a forgettable experience that won’t leave much of a lasting effect on its viewers. Some of you may actually like that, as it deals with not-so-fun topics at times. I am saddened that it didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, but it also wasn’t all that bad either. The film is fine. Just fine enough to warrant a viewing.
-Kyle A. Goethe