Directed by: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer
Written by: Jeff Buhler
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence
The way individuals cope with grief becomes their own prerogative because it’s such an individualized experience. This film takes the opportunity to show the horror that comes with decision-making stemming from grief and while at its core the message shows strength, the execution of the story relies on the same repetitive and uninteresting scares and results in putrid storytelling.
Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family move out to small-town Ludlow, Maine, which provides a change of pace for the hustle and bustle he of Boston. The family cat, Church, dies when hit by a truck and their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) tells Louis about burying the feline in the Pet Sematary. Church then reappears and brings Ellie, Louis’s daughter, out into the road where she also gets struck by a truck. Stricken by grief Louis becomes tempted to take his daughter to the same place that resurrected Church against the behest of Jud.
Taken from the novel famously written by Stephen King, and remade from the 1989 version, this film attempted to bring the story to a more modern audience. Pet Sematary arrives during the tidal wave of King adaptations to the big screen. In its same year of release, there are other films like It Chapter Two and Doctor Sleep that have been constructed from the words of the legendary horror writer. This film just so happens to be the worst of the lot and it’s not even close. However, not a complete wash because it does look into how each family grieves for the deaths in their lives and how guilt is wrapped up into it. Louis feels the guilt of being responsible for the death of his daughter and how it impacts the rest of the family. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) struggles with grappling the death of her daughter but also revisits the traumatic experience from when her own sister died. The film presents these ideas but does not dive deep into them, which I did not have high expectations it would because of its attempt to be mainstream horror. It’s when the rest of the story faces any sort of scrutiny that this film shows to be quite the stinker.
The main issue with this film comes from character decisions and how it does not track throughout the narrative. Primarily this surfaces with the character of Jud. He has lived in the area for a long time and knows the evil of the Pet Sematary. He swears that the evils will never be worth whatever it can provide and it’s revealed later in the film that he had his own experience with that sort of resurrection. Which makes it baffling to me that he would even consider ever bringing this idea up to Louis and his family. The way the rest of the narrative unfolds hinges on the idea of grief, which makes sense for the characters of Louis and Rachel, but it does not work for Jud at all.
At the very least, Jason Clarke receives a role where his wife does not cheat on him as shown in Serenity and The Aftermath, which both came out just this year. He has quite the history of taking on roles where his wives lack fidelity in their relationships. In this film, he serves as the emotional gateway into the story. His character, Louis, wants to provide a slower change of pace for his family and be in an environment where they could spend more time together and everything just goes wrong. However, the strongest performer in the film emerges with Amy Seimetz as Rachel, as she holds the title of the character who gets scared the most. Rachel has the trauma of when her sister suffered from a fatal disease and becomes haunted by it, especially after the death of her own daughter. Amy has to carry much of the jump scare and emotional sequences in the film.
As with any mainstream horror film, this one relies on jump scares and while not necessarily being a negative overall, the sheer amount of repetition of the scares became rather baffling. This occurs mainly with Rachel and the horror she encounters. I could not believe the number of times they utilized the same style of jump scare. Sure, the first one was effective but they kept doing it again and again that I worried the projector had begun to malfunction. Additionally, not to fully hold it against the film, but it failed to deliver key elements of the story that would have made key decisions make sense. For example, any type of explanation of the mysticism of the Pet Sematary. The novel provides important context as to how it influences the decision-making of the characters. I only know this because my wife described it to me and her opinion on King remains the ultimate arbiter for me. She loves his work and she was aggravated by how the story unfolded. Learning more about how the story comes together in the novel and what they omitted for the film makes it even worse.
The most important line in the film comes from Jud when he warns Louis that “sometimes dead is better.” It captures my view of this film that “sometimes doing nothing is better” and that’s the case with this particular production. Yeah, I know that was terrible but there was no reason to bring this story back to life on the big screen. See what I did there? Okay, I’ll stop now. Pet Sematary ends an abject failure and it’s unfortunate because the source material has resonance and remains very popular with fans of Stephen King, including my wife but it does not work. It disappoints the lover of the books and just aggravates anyone coming into the story with fresh eyes.