Considering that it’s a genre that has become somewhat oversaturated with Stephen King adaptations, there’s no arguing that horror fans have seen both the best and worst of what King’s source material has to offer on-screen.
For every “The Shining” (1980) or “Carrie” (1976), there’s a “Dreamcatcher” (2003) waiting just around the corner, and while the good-to-bad ratio itself has leaned more in favor of successful adaptations, needless to say, not all of King’s original novels have been able to be capture audiences with their Hollywood “upgrades.”
However, times have changed, as critically-acclaimed films such as Mike Flanagan’s “Gerald’s Game” (2017), and especially Andrés Muschietti’s remake of “It” (2017), have ultimately commenced a “Stephen King Renaissance” if you will, and Paramount, along with directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch, decided to contribute with “Pet Sematary,” the remake of the 1989 film based off King’s novel of the same name.
Looking to leave their home in Boston behind, Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and their two children Gage (Lucas Lavoie) and Ellie (Jete’ Laurence) decide to move to a remote house in Ludlow, Maine.
Upon their arrival, Ellie manages to come across a pet cemetery (or “pet sematary,” as the nearby sign mistakenly reads), a place that, according to their neighbor Judson Crandall (John Lithgow), holds a dark secret: once they’re buried, any animal has the ability to become immediately resurrected. And thus, after Ellie’s cat, Church, is killed after being hit by a truck, Louis brings the cat back to life by burying it in the cemetery.
However, as Jud says in the film, “They don’t come back the same,” and while the cat does return to the world of the living, it also begins to adopt feelings of aggression and quiet malevolence towards the Creed family. And frankly, that’s all I’m going to say right now (though if you’ve seen the film’s spoiler-filled trailers, you already know what happens next).
With a novel that has often been considered to be one of King’s most iconic, and a 1989 adaptation that has managed to develop somewhat of a cult following over the years, Widmyer and Kölsch ultimately had to find a way to justify the existence of this rather unnecessary remake, and in some respects, they certainly succeed.
Thanks in large part to some effective performances, especially those from Seimetz and Lithgow, both directors are able to breathe some new life into this tale of emotional loss and resurrection, even if most of the attempts at horror mainly stem from the overused “jump-scare” technique that, unfortunately, has remained a common trend in modern-day horror filmmaking.
Clarke, however, continues to be known as “that great actor who arguably needs a better agent,” as the screenplay itself doesn’t really give him that much to work with, and as a result, his performance seems rather bland and uninteresting compared to the rest of the primary cast members.
What saves “Pet Sematary” from becoming mediocre, however, is the drastic change in both structure and pacing during the (almost) bone-chilling third act climax. With a downright bleak ending that, surprisingly enough, differs from the ending of the 1989 film. While it’s not on the same level as a black-and-white photograph that leaves the audience questioning the greater meaning behind the film’s themes and framework (Kubrick’s “The Shining”), but it does add a new element of disturbing ambiguity that wasn’t exactly present in the previous adaptation.
2019’s “Pet Sematary,” if it already wasn’t obvious enough, was produced so that Paramount could cash-in on the massive success of the recent “It” remake, as well as on the anticipation of the upcoming “It: Chapter 2,” and “Shining” sequel “Doctor Sleep.” Considering that film became greenlit only less than two years ago, it’s clear that this was fast-tracked into production by Paramount to keep the hype of this “Renaissance” going.
Does it add anything special to that said “Renaissance?” Well, both yes and no.
If anything, this is a surface-level attempt at bringing King’s writing to the silver screen, and while I am somewhat disappointed in the final product, I’m not exactly complaining either.