Movie Review: "Pet Sematary"
Louis (Jason Clarke) no longer wants to work the night shift at the emergency room. He wants more time with his children, so he gets a job as a local doctor in a small town in Maine. Him and his wife take their two kids and move into a ranch house in Maine, but the house does not come without its mysteries. The woods behind their house contains a local myth, an area where locals have buried their pets for generations, known as the Pet Sematary.
The Pet Sematary is a mysterious area of the woods. There is a strange power in that ancient place, and the locals know it. When their family cat is hit by a car, Louis’ new neighbor (John Lithgow) guides him to a secret area of the woods (located far beyond the Pet Sematary). There, they bury the cat and, the next day, the very same cat shows up at the house. It is very much alive, but it does not act like the cat they buried. When Louis’ daughter is also killed by a car, he wonders if the the Pet Sematary is the key to ending his agony. Can it bring his daughter back and, if so, will she be the same girl that he buried (or will she be something else)?
The Pros & Cons
John Lithgow (+5pts)
Judd’s Motivation (-3pts)
Ellie & The Sematary (+8pts)
The Horror (-5pts)
Pro: Louis (+8pts)
If you are a fan of Stephen King, then you know his specialty is writing interesting characters in tossing them into bizarre situations. This story was all about Louis and his struggle to come to terms with the passing of his daughter. What lengths is he willing to go to? What does it take to make him realize he made a mistake?
I thought this character was interesting because, while his actions did not have the best outcome, I understood why he did what he did. He was also relatable in the sense that he was learning about the Pet Sematary along with the audience. I even liked that Louis' idea of death (and what comes after) was challenged greatly by the events of this story. My only complaint is that I would have liked to see Louis’ story (specifically his ideology) get a little more focus. Louis went through quite the emotional journey, and I thought Jason Clarke did a great job of conveying this character's varying emotional state (which was crucial in making the audience buy into what he did and his motivations for doing so).
Con: Rachel (-4pts)
This was a character that got way more screen time and development than what was necessary (while other side characters got little to none). We got a backstory for this character in relation to a trauma from her childhood. This backstory had absolutely nothing to do with the present storyline or the Pet Sematary. I have not read the book, so I do not know if this storyline was in the book or if Stephen King made a better connection between it and the present storyline, but it definitely did not work for me in this movie. It felt like a distraction, and ended up having absolutely no payoff. The filmmakers definitely should have spent the screen time focusing on more relevant aspects of this story.
Pro: John Lithgow (+5pts)
John Lithgow plays Louis' new neighbor, Judd. I will get into my problem with this character later in my review, but John Lithgow added a lot to this role. I cannot pinpoint exactly what makes him so entertaining to watch, but John Lithgow has a great screen presence. You care about this character because of the depth that John Lithgow adds to any role he is in. There were parts about the character's story that did not make sense, but I was able to forgive these (to an extent) because of how much I enjoyed seeing John Lithgow in the role. He is an incredibly talented actor (which gave the character layers and made him more interesting), and he has a great screen presence (which made the character memorable). John Lithgow significantly improves any movie he is in, and Pet Sematary was no exception.
Con: Judd’s Motivation (-3pts)
I liked John Lithgow as Judd. I enjoyed the character’s presence, but his motivations did not make any sense. The character is fully aware of what happens when you bury something in the Pet Sematary. He knows that things do not come back the same, so I did not buy his reasoning for telling Louis about the place. Based on what Judd knew about the Pet Sematary, I just did not believe that the character would think that the risk was worth the gain. Perhaps the book did a better job of explaining Judd’s motivation, but the filmmakers definitely did not give it the attention that it needed. It just felt like an example of a character making a dumb decision just to get he plot of the movie moving.
Pro: Ellie & The Sematary (+8pts)
I liked Ellie, not for the actress in the role (although she did a really good job), but for what impact the character had on Louis’ story. What does his actions with Ellie do to his family? What does it do to him, mentally? What is she capable of doing and how dangerous is she? It was interesting to see the filmmakers answering these questions on-screen, and it was made even better by how creepy the character was in a number of scenes.
It would be wrong for me to mention what I liked about the character (Ellie) without mentioning the thing that made her the way she was, the Pet Sematary. I liked the veil of mystery that the filmmakers maintained when it came to the Pet Sematary and the supernatural things that happen there. The filmmakers did not give too much focus to the Pet Sematary itself. It got just enough focus to make it feel relevant and interesting, but not so much that it lost its mystery. Stephen King has made his name by making stories that focus on the characters in them, with supernatural things happening around them. In other words, the characters are the focal point, and I thought that this story did a decent job of bringing Stephen King’s style to this movie.
Con: The Horror (-5pts)
Unfortunately, while I liked the movie, I found it to be more of a thriller than a horror. Horror is a weird genre because, by definition, if you are hoping to be scared, you are less likely to be. That being said, I did not think there was much to this movie that was “scary”. I would give examples but I do not want to spoil anything. All I will say is that the few scenes (that felt like attempted horror), really just felt like more of a slasher film, as opposed to one that was actually “scary”. Again, I liked the movie, I just thought the horror could have used some work. Definitely do not go into it expecting a very scary movie, as it ended up being mild horror at best.
Grade: B- (84pts)
I am a big Stephen King fan, and I enjoy a good horror movie, so I was looking forward to this one. I thought it was a decent movie, but there were definitely some elements of the story that needed some improvement. Louis, with a strong performance from Jason Clarke, got decent character development, but he was really the only character who was properly developed. Rachel got a bunch of screentime and backstory, but it never felt relevant to the primary story (regarding the Pet Sematary, Louis, and her daughter).
The filmmakers also did a poor job of explaining Judd’s motivation, but John Lithgow had such a great screen presence, which made me able to look past my issue with that motivation (to an extent). Any fan of Stephen King will tell you that he likes to make his characters the focal point of his stories. He likes to make stories about interesting characters in strange scenarios. This movie definitely felt like it was in line with Stephen King’s style, but only one character (Louis) was properly developed. Finally the horror itself felt a little lacking, as the movie felt more like an intense thriller than a scary horror movie. There was a lot that the filmmakers could have done better, but I still thought it was a decent movie (just be sure to manage your expectations a bit).