Sometimes dead is better. Sometimes remakes are better. I guess we'll find out which one this should have been.
Stephen King’s Cemetery of Pets
Before getting into the review officially, I feel it’s best to touch briefly on my thoughts about the original film and Stephen King in general. I’m fairly fond of the 1989 film Pet Sematary actually, sure it has its problems, but I still dig it. The movie has some creepy imagery and also contains some mature conversations about death that is handled well. The ’89 movie does struggle with tone as it flip-flops into some quirky moments that are distinctly under the style of Stephen King certainly, however it makes for an inconsistent narrative when something humorous would occur in the middle of a sequence that is supposed to be tension building. Aside from that, I still enjoy the original Pet Sematary and Fred Gwynne’s role as Jud Crandall is no short of iconic.
The 1992 sequel, Pet Sematary II, on the other hand is no short of unintentionally hilarious. I won’t lie, I’ve laughed my ass off watching that movie because of how bad and how deeply rooted in the angst ridden early ‘90s that it is. Plus, Clancy Brown is that sequel’s saving grace of over-the-top villain craziness. It’s a bad movie, but it’s a bad movie to have a good laugh at for sure. Especially when in the company of friends to assist in making fun of the flick’s ridiculousness.
As for Stephen King, I generally enjoy his work and believe that he is a fantastically talented writer that is filled with creative horror tales. With that said, the best film adaptations of King’s books are the ones that take specific liberties in order to translate his stories into a visual medium. To me, Stephen King has such an eccentric way of crafting his twisted tales that when they aren’t properly tweaked in order to feel more acceptable to the viewer then those productions tend to fail. My prime example of Stephen King adaptations for what works and what doesn’t is the comparison between Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the 1997 mini-series, Stephen King’s The Shining. There is a major difference between the two and it is wildly apparent as to what details lead to the mini-series’ failure to scare and the 1980 film becoming a true horror classic.
Pet Sematary in 2019
In many respects, oddly enough, the 2019 remake of Pet Sematary is hugely a shot by shot remake. Not necessarily in a literal sense as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho; narratively speaking though it strongly follows along the exact same plot point beats as the 1989 movie, only for some reason I find myself not minding that take so much here because it is far more tonally consistent throughout the picture as the 2019 adaptation maintains its unsettling atmosphere for probably 95% of the story. The remaining five percent I will get to later, but for the most part this movie succeeds at being a solidly creepy flick. What also keeps this remake fresh is that even though the story is mostly similar, how particular events transpire are changed and result in a somewhat unique flavor that justifies this remake’s existence. The direction is suspenseful, the acting is top-notch, and the filmmaking is stunning.
Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), along with their two children move out of the hectic city to live in the rural parts of Maine. Soon after moving into the new house, the family discovers a mysterious burial ground located deep within the woods near their home. A cemetery specifically constructed for the lost pets of this small town’s residents for the last several decades. However, it is not all that it appears as there is some strange power that lurks within this forest. A power that blurs the lines between life and death.
Turning the Familiar into a Fresh Take
Like I had stated previously, much of what is seen here is definitely present in the 1989 film, yet there is just enough changes to the story and the tone in general to keep this an engaging experience. For the sake of the potential future viewers, I will do my best to dance around any spoilers, however I will have to touch on one or two details in order to discuss the film efficiently. I promise to stamp a clear warning before I reveal said spoiler though. I will say that if anyone is familiar with the novel or 1989 film of the same name, then they should already know roughly what does occur within the story.
From the opening there is immediately a sense of dread that surrounds our leads and it only intensifies as the story goes along. Instead of the somberness ever becoming overwhelming to the point of being dull, the filmmakers make sure to inject enough life within its characters and environment so the audience is never bored by what is going on. We begin to empathize and relate to this family, enjoying their comradery with one another rather than ever feeling monotone or one-note at any point. So when something terrifying or traumatic does happen, it is all the more impactful as we experience exactly what the characters experience, which keeps the supernatural elements that happen later on seem more so grounded.
Even though the tone stays close to the ground alongside our own reality, the movie also isn’t afraid of providing enough surrealism to keep the viewer disoriented and on their toes. Strange imagery that is almost dreamlike really gives this adaptation a personality of its own as well. Because we get to know these characters, when the terrors of this surreal world come into play, we are just as afraid as they are and we buy what is going on rather than question it.
One of the major details that I am about to spoil, so *SPOILER WARNING*, the family has a cat… and this is a horror movie… you can probably put two and two together. But when this cat dies, it doesn’t stay that way. Kicking off the real story of when this father of the family discovers that there is a way of cheating death… at a price. When an traffic accident takes the life of the family’s beloved feline, the neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) leads Louis to the path where the soil is contaminated with some source of power that brings the ones who have passed on back from the dead. The next day Church is back, but he’s not quite the same either.
Apparently the cat, Church, was performed by four different cats. I must say that the animal trainers did a terrific job at instructing them because this is one hell of a terrifying little monster that they create here. I’m sure that there was probably some assistance with computer imagery somewhere for the cat, but I never noticed it and I was continuously on the edge of my seat any time Church showed back up. Just within the cat’s look with his eyes and I instantly felt a sense of danger, it was great work in part of the trainers and the cinematographer without a doubt! Every scene that one of these family members shared with Church, my heart started to beat a little faster in anticipation of what this animal could possibly do next.
As I said before, Jud Crandall is an extremely memorable character with iconic lines that were delivered perfectly by the late-great Fred Gwynne. To say that John Lithgow had some major shoes to fill while also needing to tread lightly is an understatement. Lithgow somehow pulled it off extremely well as he made this character his own while also keeping the spirit of Gwynne’s performance alive. This is a sweet old man that simply wants to try to do the right thing for this family that he grows firmly attached to. There is an endearing bond that we witness blossom between Jud and some of the family members. In some regards though I feel that there was more attention brought to that close bond in the 1989 film, but at the same time the 2019 movie still does a decent job to help me understand certain motivations that are needed for its second and third act.
This was a determining factor that could make or break the film; in the 1989 adaptation I felt that it somewhat broke the movie, while thirty years later in the newest adaptation I feel is handled in a far superior manor. The character of Victor Pascow is supposed to be a spiritual guide for this family, his only goal is to try and help them from total self-destruction. In the original movie, the Pascow character completely broke the tone with some unintentional hilarity on his part in the middle of what was supposed to be suspenseful. Here, he adds to the disturbing nature of this world and ramps up the suspense. At no point did I laugh at a line of his or his sudden appearance within a scene. He was creepy and kept me in fear for the lives of this whole family.
The Second Spoiler Dance
In case anyone is unaware of the narrative, I’m going to do my best to tiptoe around this spoiler, but I have to touch on it. So I apologize in advance. At approximately the halfway point a significant part of the family succumbs to a sudden tragic demise, I won’t say who, but it does vary slightly from its source materials in who and how. Given the nature of the story, this character inevitably comes back. When that happens, this actor gives one hell of a scary performance and I can see a bright future in their career. Before the change, they were charming and downright adorable. After… I think I crapped my pants. Only a few times though, it’s fine. I’m fine… Seriously, I loved how spine-chilling this character became once risen from the grave. Not to mention the makeup/CG effects that went into her appearance which totally sold me on the fact that this is 100% a living corpse I am seeing in front of me. Some admirable effort went into this character at supplying the frights and it delivered!
The Spooky Spooky
Thankfully, this is not a jump-scare fest like a large portion of modern horror is nowadays sadly. This is a slow-burn supernatural thriller that develops its characters wisely so that when the suspense rises, the audience is on the same level of fear as the protagonists are. Surprisingly there are no random cats jumping out of nowhere to provide a false scare at any moment. Any time the cat does show up, it is legitimately intimidating and is for a purpose rather than to trick the viewer that something spooky is happening when really it’s only a loud noise. I must warn anyone who may get a little squeamish, this movie has a couple of graphic shots. Not much, but it is definitely rated R for a reason; and those reasons will make you go, “OUCH”!
All of the special effects are stunning, from the makeup I mentioned above to the gore effects to even the work done for the atmospheric environment all looks gorgeous. A lot of the computer and practical effects used here rival a large sum of what could be seen in the ’89 film quite honestly. There really isn’t any standout moment where the aesthetics look laughable or cartoonish that I can recall for this remake. Maybe the occasional green screen that I noticed once or twice, but it never really took me out of what was going on.
For the most part all I feel towards this 2019 effort is appreciation and admiration towards what it accomplishes. Unfortunately I did mention that there was five percent of this movie that I thought didn’t quite work, that being literally the last minute of this movie. The very ending which technically is not five percent, but since it is the narrative’s close, that makes it a relatively significant part of the film that cannot be ignored. In my opinion, it’s kind of a poor note to end on in such an abrupt way too. I didn’t much care for how it ended; it wasn’t scary, nor was it a twist that kept the momentum going either. It’s like the writer stubbed his toe while typing up the very last page, got annoyed and said “f*ck it, good enough”! For a movie that managed to engross me so well, really dropped the ball in its final moment to leave a lasting impression. Luckily it doesn’t ruin the experience by any means, but it does leave behind a somewhat sour taste on an otherwise creepy flick.
Even though my issues with newest Pet Sematary are minimal, the influence they have is consequential. Overall I’d probably say that the remake is a stronger product over its predecessors that keeps intact the intelligent discussions on death, how we as people deal with death and grief in our own ways. The tone is consistently macabre with a creepy atmosphere to go along with it. The whole cast gives it their all and so does the special effects team as well. If someone is looking for a suspenseful, dark and twisted tale to dive into with a delightful Stephen King edge then 2019’s Pet Sematary is perfect for just that. It may not be perfect, but I’d give it a solid B+ if I actually rated films on here. However, I don’t. Don’t get used to that ever being a thing with me.
What's Your Favorite Pet Sematary?
That's All Folks!
A horror remake that’s good… What a twist! What did you all think though? Did you like or dislike my review? Agree or disagree? Wish a cat would rise from the ground and suffocate me while I sleep? Comment down below and let me know! If you so happened to have enjoyed my article then please do me a favor and share this around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a corpse-filled day… I didn’t have anything to go along with the theme of the movie that sounded any good, I’m sorry.
© 2019 John Plocar