Review – Pet Sematary (2019)

The King renaissance hits a bump.

There’s a sad irony in digging up and bringing back Stephen King’s horrific grief fable. Like the story tells us, “sometimes dead is better”. With this fresh remake of Pet Sematary, misery is constantly thrusted upon you, but there’s nothing truly visceral amid the bread-and-butter filmmaking to take it beyond that fatiguing mainstream horror feel.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) move from the hustling and bustling of Boston to rural Maine. Their new home, a gorgeous barn-like forrest sanctuary, comes with acres of woods – including a mysterious burial ground. 

The name of the film and novel stems from the incorrectly spelled name of the graveyard, etched onto wood by the local animal mask-wearing kids, hitting their drums in creepy processions. But when the family cat is torpedoed by a speeding lorry, Louis, with the assistance of friendly but hesitant neighbour Jud (John Lithgow), ventures further, discovering the dark mystery within. 

© – Paramount Pictures

Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (coming from the lower level horrorsphere) imbue a nerve-racking dread through the opening shots, tracking across dense, green woodland, with Christopher Young’s nervous composition pervading the unpleasant atmosphere. Though, as plot threads start to open, despite some solid cinematography from Laurie Rose, the film loses that confident grip.

Scenes are over-edited, disturbing that crucial lingering creepiness that has to refuel with every cut. There is an immediacy to it all; an almost schlocky feel (some green-screen scenes and fade transitions really take you out of it) that has a little more fun with itself than the harder 1989 version. When the cat inevitably comes back, scruffy, matted and primed for Phoebe Buffay, Rachel says to Louis: “Good job you’re not a fucking vet.” 

Clarke is on reliable form, portraying a saddening descent into madness as he struggles to grasp the powers (and dangers) of resurrection on his doorstep. Seimetz has a terrifically natural quiver, fitting in nicely as the jump scares amp up in the more conventional, slasher-esque finale; but her arc is frustrating. You see snippets of her traumatic past, which align with the material’s examination of grief and how, ultimately, it might not be okay in the end, but the writers Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler don’t do enough to satisfyingly tie it in; other than to add to the already depressing mood. 

Lithgow is a refreshing presence, handling the grimmer touches of the plot with charming decorum; he also shines in scenes with Jeté Laurence (who excels in the closing act), sparking up an endearing rapport. But the simple fact is; the film isn’t scary. The make-up work is fantastic (look at for a twisted spine and a toe-curling moment with an Achilles’ Heel) but the attempts to frighten are meat-and-potatoes fare. You can’t help but feel the writers and directors play their hand too much, racing to the grisly highlights but forgetting the suffocating depth along the way. There is a little bit of fan service with a Derry sign (the location of the far superior IT), which is probably the only time you’ll want to let out a cheer. 

There’s something wrong when you walk out of a film as bleak, sobering and downright hopeless as Pet Sematary, and the response is a shrug à la Partridge. 
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm

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