Pet Sematary (2019) Review
SOMETIMES DEAD IS BETTER
In the literary world, author Stephen King has been considered to be the “master of horror”; cultivating a steady collection of novels that expanded upon that ideas of that moniker name as well as producing a variety of fictional worlds in the suspense, supernatural, and dark fantasy realm. It’s no wonder that Hollywood would eventually approach the bestselling author in adapting some of his literary work or collaborating with him on several projects meant for the both the big and small screen. Of course, this list consists of several recognizable titles, including 1986’s Stand by Me (based on the “The Body), 1994’s Shawshank Redemption (based on novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), and 1980’s The Shinning (based on the novel of the same name) just to name a few. Following the recent trends of Hollywood of remakes, several adaptations of King’s works have undergone these updated cinematic translations in way to reshape and / or reimagine what’s been before and present it underneath a new filmmaking guise. This is most notable 2017’s IT (based on King’s 1986 novel and originally made as a 1990 as a TV movie) and actually garnished both critical and box office success during its theatrical run, with a continuation feature film (i.e. IT: Chapter Two) planned for a release in latter half of 2019. Now, Paramount Pictures and directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer present the latest attempt in reimagining one of Stephen King’s most terrifying novel with Pet Sematary; a remake of the 1989 film of the same name. Does this is movie finds its place amongst its moviegoing audience or is it just another pointless remake from Hollywood?
Trying to get away from the hustle and bustle life of Boston, Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) has relocated his family to rural area of Ludow, Maine, hoping to give his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and his children Ellie Jete Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) a fresh start in a quieter town. While Louis tries to settle into his new job as a local doctor physician, Ellie makes a friendship connection with Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), their elderly next-door neighbor who delights in the family’s attention and warmth. Jud is also the one who shows the Creed family the town’s dark secret that lies in the woods beyond the home; revealing the existence of a pet cemetery (misspelled “pet sematary”) where locals come to bury their dead animals. However, when tragedy strikes the Creed family, Jud attempts to helps Louis by revealing the darkly secretive truth about what lies beyond the pet cemetery; revealing an ancient burial ground with the power to resurrect the dead, but comes at a terrible cost…. leaning heavily on the expression of “sometimes…. dead is better”.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated in my reviews for The Dark Tower and IT, I’ve worked at a bookstore for several years now and I’ve actually never read any of Stephen King’s works (I know…. sad, but true). However, I know of his reputation as author and I can see people like read his wide range of novels as well as being considered the “master of horror”. Perhaps my best reference to King’s works would be to his cinematic adaptations, with movies like Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile, The Shinning, and Carrie being some of my prime examples of being introduced to the author’s tales. Recently, I’ve seeing several of his other works, including my reviews for The Dark Tower (one of the worst adaptations of King’s work) and 2017’s IT (one of my personal favorite of King’s adaptations). In the case of IT, it showed that cinematic remake is possible to surpass the original and that moviegoer audiences are willingly to accept a remake of King’s work; made noticeable by the success that 2017’s IT received.
Naturally, this brings me around to talking about my review for Pet Sematary, a 2019 remake of the 1989 feature film and a second film adaptation of King’s famous novel. As I stated above, working at a bookstore I knew of the King’s Pet Sematary and a little bit of the story by reading the novel’s back cover summary blurb a few times. However (again), I never read the book personally, but heard good things about it people who have read it. Who knows…. maybe one day I’ll read the book. Anyway…I remember hearing about that Pet Sematary was gonna get a 2019 remake and heard of both Clarke and Lithgow were gonna be attached to the project. The film’s movie trailers, which I saw a few times when I saw either PG-13 / R rated movies at my local theater, kind of intrigued me, especially since I really liked the recent remake of IT. At the time, I do remember hearing about the 1989 film of the same name, which was directed by Mary Lambert and starred actor Dale Midkiff, actor Fred Gwynne, and actress Denise Crosby, but (like the novel) I never watched it. So, I did go into watching this new version of Pet Sematary with very limited knowledge of the movie…. save for the back-cover summary on King’s paperback novel. What did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. While it’s not exactly the quintessential horror film of late from either Hollywood or from King’s adaptations, 2019’s Pet Sematary still works as an interesting and methodically creepy horror endeavor that’s well-put together and effective works for within the context it wants to tell and present. It’s not as exciting / riveting scary as 2017’s IT, but it nowhere nearly as disappointing as 2017’s The Dark Tower.
As a side-note, I did see the 1989 version of Pet Sematary that night after I saw the 2019 version. So, I will make some comparison between the two films in my review. In truth, both iterations of Pet Sematary have their merits and downfalls (as I’ll be listing a few in my review). I guess its really in the “eye of the beholder” ….to determine which one is the superior version.
2019’s Pet Sematary is directed by both Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer; both of which have worked on several projects together (as directors), including Absence, Starry Eyes, and Identical Dead Sisters. Given their background, which is compromised of mostly small projects, Kölsch and Widmeyer makes Pet Sematary their biggest and most ambitious film project to tackle. Thankfully (for the most part), duo directors succeed in presenting a feature that’s intriguing from start to finish that carries core narrative that King created in his novels. Kölsch and Widmeyer keeps the feature ominous throughout, creating a sense of fear, foreboding, and overall dreariness to the film; leading events to a horrifically creepy third act that definitely feels like a something a Stephen King narration would build to. Its at this particular is where the movie true does shine and where horror fans will love by creating some brutal sequences that will squirm in your seat (wherever your viewing this movie) and will definitely keep you on edge as these particular events unfold. Even the film’s lead to that point is also good (a few bumps here and there, but I’ll mention that below), effectively creating a sense of mystery and unsettledness as the movie’s characters come to a realization of their actions (or non-actions) of what befalls them. This clearly demonstrated by the actual Pet Sematary, which Kölsch and Widmeyer make a somewhat character unto itself, feeding on people’s fear and desire as if luring them to do unspeakable things that normally would go against their better judgement.
The film’s script, which was penned by Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler, tackles in translating / updating King’s story for a new cinematic feature film that will entice moviegoers to partake in this new iteration of Pet Sematary. There’s big thing that the script changes that might give fans of novel something to get upset about, but I’ll mention that one below. Suffice to say, the movie is actually good and better than most horror movies that have come out as is this mostly due to source material from Stephen King. The script handling also allows the film’s narrative to delves a bit deeper into the some of King’s Pet Sematary story, discussing the ideas of death and what happens after (i.e. a person soul going to heaven or some ethereal / spiritual place or does the body lay decomposing in the ground and nothing more). It’s definitely a questionable debate between science and religion that has been going on for countless years amongst different groups and I think the movie’s mentioning of it works for what the context of the narrative of Pet Sematary. The 1989 film touches briefly upon it, but I think the 2019 version gives this suggestion more depth to the topical discussion as well as Louis’s plight in the story (a man of science goes against his educated reasoning to play god and goes against the laws of nature).
In terms technical and presentation, Pet Sematary is actually a very well-made film that definitely benefits with from the updated techniques of today’s filmmaking. The one aspect that truly does stand out is the cinematography done by Laurie Rose, who provides some excellent cinematic work and usage of camera angles and creative mood lightning to make the movie creepy and unsettling when it needs to be, especially ones that involve the pet sematary. Coinciding with that is the actually production and set designs by Todd Cherniawsky, Léa-Valérie Létourneau, and Ann Smart is rather good, which is made noticeable in the actually presentation of the pet sematary sequences, which look downright cool and creepy at the same time, which is much better represented than the 1989 film (that looks more like a flower garden burial cemetery rather than something malevolent and unsettling). Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Christopher Young, is rather good and definitely adds to either both the film’s tension and / or the creepy mood in various sequences throughout the feature. Suffice to say…even if you don’t like this new 2019 remake of Pet Sematary, you just simply can’t deny that the film is actually shot and presented in a well-made fashion.
There are a few problems that this 2019 version of Pet Sematary can’t overcome, with some scrutinizing these blemishes more so than others. Perhaps many fans of either King’s novel and of the 1989 film will definitely notice the somewhat big change in the story (as revealed in the film’s second movie trailer) revolving around the two Creed children (Ellie and Gage) and what becomes of them as the tales progresses. Of course, this change from the source material might irk some fans / purist out there (especially those who grew up reading King’s famous novel), but the overall change (to me at least) is fine (at least to me it is). Like many “page to screen” adaptations out there, some changes (be it big or small) are bound to happen and are commonplace in order to stand on its own merits (away from previous iterations and from its source material) and to be slightly different. As to why the decision was made? Again, it was probably done to be different to give something “new” to this 2019 version in a small unexpected way. At the end of the day, however, it’s really a tossup as to this big change in the 2019 version as some viewers will like it, while others will call foul on it (crucially hating the feature because of it).
Still, I do have to complain that the movie’s trailer revealed this particular moment and sort of “ruined” the shock and awe of what Kölsch and Widmeyer wanted. It’s kind of like what happened with 2015’s Terminator Genisys (another movie that starred actor Jason Clarke), which presented the “big twist reveal” during the film’s movie trailer and somewhat blew the air out (sort of speak) of when its actually presented in the movie. So why was the big change in Pet Sematary revealed in the trailer? Hard to say, but I think it actually ruined the “impact” it had on actually watching the film unfold naturally. Even I, who (at the time of watching this movie) knew nothing of King’s Pet Sematary story (beyond its namesake), found the reveal to be a bit underwhelming as I saw it in the film’s trailer, which did deflate my expectations for the movie.
Another problem that the movie faces is in its pacing. For better or worse, Pet Sematary is relatively short motion picture with only having a runtime of one hour and forty-one minutes long (i.e. 101 minutes), which is roughly about the same runtime of a standard comedy film and / or animated feature. One would expect that the film’s short length would be beneficial as the movie wouldn’t be bloated and very streamlined to get the point. However, this somewhat backfires in several parts of Pet Sematary, most notably in the first half of the film. The entire first act (and also first part of the second act as well) feels a bit underwhelming; setting the stage (setting, characters, plot, etc.) for the narrative and overall premise of the film. Yes, its essential for a movie to establish such a primary piece of a feature film, but it handles in a somewhat bland way, which makes this portion of Pet Sematary have pacing issues (making the film longer than what its actually is) and slightly boring. There is plenty of atmospheric creepiness and few horror moments within the first half (probably the reason why the show a lot of the Rachel’s past with her sister Zelda during this part of the movie), but it definitely drags and leaves a lot of the more interesting / big horror moments until the latter half of the film.
In addition, there’s also a problem in handling the character development. Certain aspects of character builds and understanding are vague and its kind of hard to piece together psychology depth and realization, which is the crucial to the plot since there is only a handful of character that the movie ultimately follows (i.e. not a whole lot of supporting players). Even the 1989 film did handle some of the character developments and plot backstory better than this version (probably mostly due to Stephen King handling the movie’s screenplay). It’s as if Kölsch and Widmeyer are more interested in atmospheric horror elements and squeamish blood moments than fleshing out certain aspects of the Pet Sematary (be it character or narrative points).
The cast in Pet Sematary is relatively a small grouping of characters (mostly due to how King’s story focuses on the Creed family), but the actors and actresses selected to portray such characters definitely get the job done in their respective theatrical personas of these fictional individuals. As the lead actor of the feature, actor Jason Clarke plays the patriarch of the Creed family…Louis Creed, who sets in motion a lot of the film’s events. Clarke, known for his roles in Lawless, Chappaquiddick, and Dawn of the Planet of Apes, is definitely a capable actor and has played a variety of characters throughout his career and his portrayal of Louis Creed is a solid one at that. He sort of underplays the role of Louis in what could’ve been played as an “over-the-top” character (I kind of felt that was the case with actor Dale Midkiff did with the character in the 1989 film. Plus…he was a little boring / wooden in the movie), conveying both the stereotypical “everyman” classifications that the story of Pet Sematary needs for a parent’s worst nightmare (i.e. being relatable to the situation) as well as a fractured man that succumbs to grief and does something unspeakable in a twisted way. There are few moments that could’ve been elaborate more on Louis’s psyche (to fully understand the man), but that’s more fault on of Greenberg and Buhler and not so much Clarke’s performance. To me, I think that Clarke did a great job in the role of Louis, especially in the latter portion of the movie.
While Clarke is the male lead of Pet Sematary, the actual true star of the film is actress Jete Laurence, who plays Louis and Rachel’s daughter Ellie Creed. Known for her roles in Younger, The Snowman, and Sneaky Pete, Laurence definitely steals the show in the film, especially during the movie’s third climatic act. She holds her own as a child actor in does well with her adult co-stars, but definitely sells her character that (for lack of a better word) transforms as the narrative progressive from sweet and innocence young girl to something entirely else. This is crucial in Pet Sematary as the movie could’ve been derailed during the final act if the actress that plays couldn’t pull off the darker and malevolent switch that she undergoes, but Laurence is capable in selling the duality of Ellie Creed and does strengthen the movie because of it, especially in the face of those who dislike the change in this iteration.
Moving down the Creed family line is the character of Rachel Creed, the wife to Louis and the mother to both Ellie and Gage. Played by actress Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience and The Killing), the character of Rachel doesn’t get as much screen time as either Louis or Ellie in this movie, but I think she gets more screen time that what she did in the 1989 iteration. This is most prevalent her backstory arc in dealing with her sister Zelda, which is showcases in a more horrific / terrifying way that what the 1989 film presented. This, of course, makes the character of Rachel feels unhinged a little bit and suffering her post-childhood trauma effective her adult life, which Seimetz displays beautifully on-screen; offering up a new deeper / darker side to this already macabre story, Last member of the Creed family is Gage Creed, the youngest member of the family and who is played by young twin toddlers Hugo and Lucas Lavole (making their screen debut with Pet Sematary). While definitely cute and representing the youthful innocence of this otherwise dark feature, the character of Gage gets pushed aside and one of the least important characters of the primary cast. This is especially made clear due to the changing of characters of Ellie and Gage.
Looking beyond the Creed family, the only major supporting player of the movie (and perhaps the most memorable character in the film behind Laurence’s Ellie) is the character of Jude Crandall, the Creed’s elderly next-door neighbor, who is played by actor John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun and Cliffhanger). The character of Jud (in all version and formats of King’s story) acts as the catalyst that sets a lot of the film’s story from the very beginning by introducing the actual Pet Sematary (and what lies beyond) and the effect it has, which sort of makes him as the token “elderly old man” that knows of a lot of the town’s old myths and legends. However, I think that’s, more or less, a genetic make-up and what King essentially wanted to make the character like. For his part, Lithgow makes a great job in making the character of Judd (somewhat different from the Maine hick portrayal that actor Fred Gwynne played in the 1989 movie) that definitely adds more shades and mysterious foreboding to his odd character. In addition, Lithgow’s portrayal of the character showcases the duality within Judd (i.e. the kind-hearted old man and the dark individual who sets Louis Creed on a dark path for him and his family), which definitely is an intriguing persona for a character in a story such as Pet Sematary. Also, as a side-note, the character of Church the cat (the Creed family’s cat that’s short for the name of Winston Churchill), does a terrific job in being sinisterly evil on-screen, which is actually played by five different Maine Coon cats in the movie, and definitely as that “creepy” factor whenever displayed on camera.
Rounding out the cast are particular characters that are (more or less) minor supporting players in the movie. This includes actress Alyssa Brooke Levine (Un monde a part)) as Rachel’s twisted disfigured sister Zelda, actor Obssa Ahmed (The Expanse and Family Day) as Victor Pascow, stunt actress Suzi Stingl (The Butterfly Effect and Trick ‘r Treat) as Norma, and Maria Herrera (Double Jeopardy and The Commish) as Marcella. While all acted fine by their respective corresponding acting talents, some of these characters do play their particular crucial role in the story (and are well-presented), while the others are just forgetful minor ones (serving a scene or two).
Sometimes dead is better as character Louis Creed quickly finds out when faced with the unspeakable consequences of his actions in the movie Pet Sematary. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer 2019 film sees Stephen King’s terrifying novel getting an “updated” remake treatment for a new audience of moviegoers, translating the literary source material into a new cinematic endeavor. While the movie might face varying scrutiny on his particular big change (as well as the reason for revealing that moment in the film’s trailer) and several pacing issues and other nuances, the feature still succeeds in keeping majority of King’s core story intact and exceling with the film’s overall atmospheric nature / cinematography and the acting talents of the movie’s cast (most notably with Lithgow and Laurence). Personally, I liked this movie. Again, I never read King’s novel and didn’t see the 1989 film until after seeing this version and (to be honest) I actually prefer this one over the older one. I did have some complaints about the movie, but I did actually enjoy it. However, I can see why some viewers might not like it or prefer the older version Pet Sematary than this remake. That being said, my recommendation for this movie is both “recommended” and a “iffy choice” as some might like it (especially horror fans out there), while others might begrudgingly dislike it. It’s a type of movie that will definitely have its fanbase divide. Is it the best Stephen King remake or even of his feature film adaptations? No, but it rests steadily in the middle of the pack (personally I think it leans more on the stronger of King’s adaptations). Still, at the end of the day, 2019’s Pet Sematary is a solid endeavor in approaching King’s source material. It may not be best or brightest horror movies of late, but it definitely is a well-made and downright (and almost unsettlingly) creepy from one of master storytellers of horror.
3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: April 5th, 2019
Reviewed On: April 16th, 2019
Pet Sematary is 101 minutes long and is rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language