Pet Sematary (2019) Movie Review
After the remarkably frightening It, I was excited about a Pet Sematary remake. With It being closer to the book and far more nightmarish than the previous Tim Curry-led miniseries, I had high hopes for this film, which of course is based on the book by Stephen King. King himself even admitted that just writing Pet Sematary scared him and he was worried it may have gone too far. The first film made based on the book was already pretty close to the book, mainly because King wrote the screenplay himself. The 2019 version, however, was written by Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler. Both writers have a fairly decent horror screenplay resume, Greenberg having adapted 1408 and Mercy, two other King stories. So why were so many unnecessary changes made to Pet Sematary? Not only that, but why did they feel like dumb choices?
The film follows the Creed family who have moved away from the city to get a fresh start on life in the small town of Ludlow, Maine. There, they meet Jud Crandall, a kind old man with a terrible secret. He knows of a secret place deep in the woods that has a mysterious, dark power. After the family cat is hit by a truck and killed, Jud leads father Louis deep into the woods to the Pet Sematary. The next day, the Creed family discover the cat is alive again, but something is very different about him, almost to an evil extent.
In order to get past the negative and into the positive, let me point out the two issues that bugged me the most. First, Rachel's sister's death and the impact was changed. Rachel's sister died years before the main story and is the reason why Rachel is so afraid of death and what comes after. It's supposed to be a sort of lesson weaved into the story. That's all different in the new adaptation and it actually hurts the film in a major way. Here, Rachel seems to be more guilt-ridden and afraid of her sister haunting her. She's seems to be at peace with death in general. In fact, she gets a bit annoyed that Louis doesn't believe in an afterlife rather than annoyed that the subject was brought up. Without Rachel's fear of death there, the film turns her story into more of a Grudge-type arc and that's far too unoriginal for a Stephen King story. The flashbacks to her sister become more hinderance than help and Rachel's hallucinations start making her actions predictable. The second thing that bugs me is that there was not enough emphasis on the power of the Sematary. In the book, its power is so magnificent that it almost forces anyone who has buried something there to keep returning. It becomes almost like an addiction. In the movie, Jud does mention that he was "drawn" to it when he saw that Ellie's cat Church had died even though he knew better. But that's the only reference to its power that we get. The rest of the film just makes it look like a cursed burial ground overseen by some creature in the woods. King's book implies that the Sematary is an evil place, always has been and always will be. The film barely touches on this and doesn't even try to explain it, but rather gives you three theories at once and lets you play the guessing game for yourself. For some films that might work. For this one, it didn't.
So now, let's get to the positives. The build-up to the first visit to the Sematary was well-done. The writers made us care for the Creed family, care for Jud, and even made us wish what was about to unfold didn't have to unfold. How the makeup team made the cat look after he resurrects was brilliant. The matted fur, the ever-growing angry look in his eyes, the vengeful gestures...everything about Church the cat was on point. He was probably the most unnerving part of the whole film. The film started falling apart in its third act, which was supposed to be the strongest part. It did have its surprises though, which I can't go into depth about without revealing spoilers. The ending was shocking, considering it's the biggest departure from the book, but it also works very well. The final moments may be the scariest of the whole film because it's wholly psychological.
John Lithgow was the perfect choice to play Jud. He's stern but sweet, mysterious yet kind. He's everything Jud was meant to be. Jason Clarke's version of Louis was decent but I think it was more a fault with the writing rather than the actor. Same goes for Amy Seimetz's Rachel. Neither lived up to how they were posed in the book, and that's a real shame.
In conclusion, I obviously have very mixed feelings on the film. Yes, it had its unnerving and frightening moments. It also had its dumb and unnecessary moments. No matter how you feel about it, one thing's for sure - the book is superior. What made the idea of Pet Sematary so frightening was that there really are rumors of cursed burial grounds and evil spots in the world. So if you do try to bring back a long lost loved one or reanimate a pet, remember Jud's words: "Sometimes dead is better." I give the film a 2.5 out of 4.
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© 2019 Nathan Jasper