Pet Sematary (2019) sees Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) pack up their children (Jeté Laurence and Hugo Lavoie) and their belongings to make the move from the bustling metropolis of Boston to small town Maine. In addition to offering a slower pace of life, their new accommodations come complete with a mysterious pet graveyard located onsite. What could possibly go wrong?
I should start by saying that I think that Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes) are incredibly talented directors. Starry Eyes is one of my favorite horror films of the past five years. Unfortunately, Pet Sematary is not indicative of the duo’s best work.
Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the Pet Sematary redux is that it is kind of overkill. Remaking a film like Evil Dead, although controversial and arguably unnecessary, worked out well for writer/director Fede Alvarez. But the key difference between Evil Dead and Pet Sematary is that Evil Dead wasn’t based on a novel. When adapting a tome for the screen, there’s only so far you can stray from the written word and get any kind of buy in from fans of the book. Pet Sematary was masterfully adapted for the screen by Mary Lambert in 1989. There wasn’t all that much to improve upon and the only other (logical) reason to remake a film (from the perspective of a fan) is to tell a different story (like Alvarez’s Evil Dead 2013).
The story told here differs slightly from that told in the 1989 original but not in any profound ways. The race and or gender of a couple of characters are swapped from the previous incarnation and some of the story elements are changed slightly or switched around. But, not enough to make this redux feel fresh or like it has much to say.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that it’s Ellie, not Gage that is hit by a truck and comes back to life via burial in the titular pet cemetery. I appreciated the effort at shaking things up a bit. But, ultimately, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Unlike switching out Ash for Mia in Evil Dead (2013), almost every other element of the story remains the same.
Pet Sematary is ultimately (in all of its forms) a story about loss and the extreme measures to which one can be driven by grief. And therein lies the problem with the remake. I wasn’t nearly as compelled by the characters in this 2019 redux as I was by the first attempt to bring the story to the screen. All of the key players in the remake delivered satisfactory showings but I never fully bought in like I did with Mary Lambert’s 1989 original. The acting is probably better in the reimagining (save for a few scenes where Jason Clarke’s native accent comes out randomly) but I didn’t feel the same level of connection to the characters in the update. The talent was there but the characters didn’t feel approachable.
In addition to feeling a disconnect from the cast of the new film, there are also some missed opportunities from a storytelling perspective. The scene where Gage is killed by a semi truck in the 1989 film is legitimately horrifying. The viewer almost feels like he or she is there with the family, watching in horror as the youngest member is about to be crushed by a giant truck. In the remake, Kölsch and Widmyer fail to create the same sense of tension and don’t give the viewer the chance to get caught up in it in the same way. We see that Ellie’s parents are sad that she’s gone but it never feels like you’re there with the Creed family in the redux. I felt like a dazed bystander that was aware something tragic was happening but I didn’t feel like I was a part of it. Without a more profound depiction of loss and the aftermath, it’s harder to fully comprehend what Louis does following Ellie’s passing.
Aside from missed opportunities from the storytelling side, I was also struck by some of the editing decisions. In the third act, Rachel breaks a window and there are dramatic sound effects leading up to the glass shattering and then a slow motion sequence where we see the glass flying out onto the ground below. Where was that type of buildup and drama when it was actually needed? It felt as though the directorial duo put more emphasis on the breaking of a window than they did Ellie’s death.
Another downfall was the failure to shed some of the campy elements of the 1989 original. Post-resurrection Ellie has a lot of cheesy one-liners, similar to Gage in the original. While that (mostly) worked in 1989, Widmyer and Kölsch had a chance to make Ellie scary and instead opted to make her almost comical.
In the plus column, the director’s make a ton of Stephen King references, a couple notable examples are a group of characters discussing events from the film, Cujo and a road sign for Derry, Maine. It’s clear that the directors love the source material and wanted to pay respect to it but the finished product just wasn’t that great.
Pet Sematary (2019) is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra, and DigitalHD. The standout special feature is a multipart making of documentary that touches on the years the film spent in development hell as well as allowing the creative team to weigh in on why they made specific decisions. There are also a series of deleted scenes and an alternate ending that was wisely left on the cutting room floor.
Pet Sematary(2019) is certainly worth watching once. But, I still believe the original is the superior effort.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Writer(s): Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg (story by)
Stars: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, and Hugo Lavoie
Release: July 9, 2019 (Home Video)
Studio/ Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Budget: $21 Million
Length: 1 Hour and 41-Minutes