REVIEW: Pet Sematary (Spoiler Free)

Sometimes rebooted is better.

The Creed family decide to move away from the hustle and bustle of Boston to the quiet and quaint Ludlow where they learn they have inherited several acres of woods for which contains a cursed burial ground referred to by the locals as the ‘Pet Sematary’.

I believe we currently live in a golden era of both horror and Stephen King adaptations in cinema. Not only have characters like Jordan Peele, Mike Flanagan and titles like Blumhouse with films also including the likes of Hereditary and A Quiet Place been reppin’ the horror genre but, has anyone noticed that literature’s greatest horror scribe has been seeing a sudden spike in the quality of his films?

Stephen King, for a long time, has been acknowledged as a consistently great novelist with an inconsistent translation of his works to film. Let’s just say that when his adaptations are good, they’re great, and when they’re bad, they’re terrible – I don’t think there is much of a need for us to go into the filmography of King’s novels or else we’d be here all day. Point of the matter is – and not to jinx the guy – but his recent adaptations have genuinely been kind of great. Since 2017’s It, Netflix has also released Gerald’s Game and 1922 from which, from all accounts, have been critically lauded. Also, with the anticipation building up for It: Chapter 2 in late 2019, it would appear as if King fans have entered prime time for their favourite novels to get some honestly solid adaptations moving forward. With Pet Sematary being the first King film since It to secure a cinema release, I’d faithfully say that I was really looking forward to this movie, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

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(Kerry Hayes/Paramount Pictures 2019)

Unrelenting, gruelling horror oozed from every sequence of this film – and not just ‘horror’ horror but also family drama-type horror. Pet Sematary was chilling to the point I was ready to pull my hood over my eyes at some points because the film did so well in the escalation towards moments of terror and fear. Although not the most perfect film I have seen in 2019, so far – neither the most perfect horror – Pet Sematary at the very least managed to be one of the better King adaptations in years… luckily.

Although I would still consider It a better film than Pet Sematary, its obvious how on-brand these King adaptations have become overall. Between the recent crop of King films, its become visibly noticeable how dedicated filmmakers have come to not only adapting King texts from purely character and story, but also, more extensively, tone and mood. With nothing against cinema classics like The ShiningStand By Me or The Shawshank Redemption (all genius in their own unique ways) these more recent King films no longer feel like singular visionary outputs but more direct love letters to their original scribe. A complete understanding and soft relaxation into what made the original novels feel so good and terrifying, along with ItPet Sematary attempted to capture what made King, as a writer, so damn captivating in the first place.

Like I said, through tone and mood, Pet Sematary felt very aligned with the original conception of King as a creator. Despite the story of the film straying from the novel’s in certain places (even drastically, at points), Pet Sematary upheld a certain atmosphere that could only be referred to as similar to that of King’s writing. The absurdly homely but ultimately bleak and devastatingly blackening sense of terror a reader would get when page turning a King novel was what could be felt throughout 2019’s Pet Sematary and simultaneously 2017’s It. The reason I keep bringing up It is because the 2017 clown film managed to alter the story of the novel but continue to obtain the essence of the book – just like Pet Sematary.

There were quite a few changes made, story-wise, during the translation of Pet Sematary from words to frames. Having actually read the original novel, I can say the film never strayed too far from the book at its core, but did restructure and completely reevaluate pivotal story elements. I would say however that what was changed worked and never felt as if it toed-the-line in sense of absurdity or unbelievability; in fact, most of the changes worked better in my mind, thematically at the very least. The way the film used these changes to propel the story forward towards the end into some unknown territory really worked to offer an ‘on-edge’ concluding experience. So although not completely a retelling of King’s original story, Pet Sematary indeed respected its source material entirely, working upwards towards an intriguing, gruelling finale that fit rather naturally within the tale’s atmosphere.

I would say though that the movie did take its time in reaching a more comfortable point with its material. Pet Sematary dragged for quite a bit with exposition being handed out, character work that felt a little forced and pointless and, finally, a lot of weird sh*t that, retrospectively, did not entirely work in the context of the entire film. Pet Sematary was, first and foremost, poorly paced – especially in its first half. After a pivotal moment, Pet Sematary immediately picked up its stride and moved faster and swifter towards a strong conclusion… and trust me, that’s a big deal coming from me; a guy who loved King’s original ending. You see, the way 2019’s Pet Sematary ended was not in the same way as the book – and yet it was just as satisfying.

A lot of what made the ending so justified and powerful enough was because of the ridiculously well executed performances of the cast. Not only was Australia’s own, Jason Clarke, truly great in Pet Sematary but his leading ladies of Amy Seimetz and the young Jeté Laurence indefinitely stole the show. Also John Lithgow proved to be pretty phenomenal in his own right in Pet Sematary; honestly one of the best performances from the veteran actor in years, both warm and creepy in one sitting. Sadly, the acting did at times outperform the script as some characters, despite written well enough, did wear a little thin at times.

Like I said, Pet Sematary contained a lot of exposition at times and the majority of it came from the mouth of Lithgow’s Jud Crandall. Usually I don’t have a huge problem with exposition – like if a film really needs it, then sure, let it happen. However, the concept of a cursed ‘pet sematary’ is not one that should be difficult to grasp… especially not one that needs explanation that stretches for half a film. And its in this exposition that the character of Jud felt slightly lost. Not only that, but Jud, along with Clarke’s Lewis, felt like too characters too easily subjected to the ‘Jack Torrance-disease’, birthed from King, of just going crazy all of a sudden because they’re supposedly cursed or whatnot. I don’t know… I just felt the writing came off as slightly thin at points, either giving into horror clichés or not giving strong enough reasons to explain a character turn. Compared to the male characters though, the female characters of Seimetz’s Rachel and Laurence’s Ellie felt written extremely well and assisted the film in reaching its fuller potential whenever the male characters faulted.

Speaking though on the ups of the characters and what did, at the heart of Pet Sematary, make the film work extremely well was the running theme of grief, coupled with guilt and misery, and the character’s inability to essentially “move on”. Throughout Pet Sematary, characters appeared to continuously harbour built up grains of sorrow with an inability to release – an inability to let go. The central character of Lewis and his disbelief in the concept of a God or an afterlife only worked to contrast the further fears and doubts of characters like Rachel and Jud, who’s torturous paths had seemingly consumed them to beyond repair – foreshadowing a frightful character arc for Lewis. Pet Sematary tried commenting on the fretful concept of human being’s attachment to the material furtherly detaching them from the spiritual (thanks Wong)… or even the other way around. Pet Sematary, I believe, was a film capable of communicating a many ideas, doing so through the relatable, gut-wrenching perspective of family-drama, therefore looping me back to how well this film worked as not just a ‘horror’ horror but a family drama-type horror.

Although not exactly another HereditaryPet Sematary understood where true horror lies within a person – where the grief, the fear and the shock reside – in one’s connections between family members. Pet Sematary unsheathed its greatest weapon as a threat against the concept of an idyllic family, furtherly displaying a tragedy before the horror. You see, an alright movie would show a family in distress but a great film would show a family in comfort torn apart slowly before meeting a dark, nightmarish conclusion juxtaposed to that previously experienced comfort. Pet Sematary was rather well-rounded and honestly one of the better horror films I have seen in a while which understood how to properly scare its audience.

It would seem like directors, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, and writer, Jeff Buhler, took a little walk in the woods one night with a DVD copy of Pet Sematary 1989. Proceeding to bury it, to their surprise, what arose from the ground the next morning was something nuance and fresh… finally a devilish, modern cinematic version of the Stephen King classic. Now King fans may rejoice; we finally have a winner on our hands.

Pet Sematary is a bloody… CRUSADE!!

 

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