After a doctor buries his daughter’s dead cat in a mysterious plot of land, it comes back to life and strange incidents begin to occur.
Reviewing a film based on a book I love is a difficult thing to do. Pet Sematary was the first Stephen King book I ever read, and to this day, I still think it’s the most disturbing book I’ve read by him or any other author. I have seen both the 1989 Pet Sematary and this latest version, and I’m sad to say neither adaptation even begins to touch the depraved insanity of that book. I have a few theories as to why that is, but we’ll touch on that below. If you came here only to find out if this movie is worth seeing then my answer is not really; no. Goodbye, and thanks for reading! If you want to know why I think this movie sucks, then by all means, stick around, but know I will be delving into quite a few spoilers.
“Sometimes Dead is Better.”
After Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke, “Serenity”, “Chappaquiddik”), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz, “You’re Next”), and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence, “The Snowman”) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) move from Boston to rural Maine, they discover a mysterious pet cemetery on their property. After the family’s cat dies, their elderly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, “Raising Cain”) shows Louis a burial plot beyond the pet cemetery that brings dead things back to life. After the cat returns from the grave, bizarre occurrences begin happening around the family’s residence.
They say the devil is in the details, and the reason that Pet Sematary is so disturbing isn’t just the subject (the dead returning to life), it’s because of the richness of the details in that story. I’ve already mentioned that this review will be rather spoiler-heavy, so lets get right into it. In the book, shortly after the cat dies, the family’s youngest member, Gage, is hit and killed by a truck. Louis buries Gage, Gage comes back, and bad stuff happens. This film follows that same plotline, only instead of Gage dying, Ellie does. This movie changes the ending a little bit too, but most of the details of the book are there in the film. While this story gets the basic beats of the book down, it completely fails to capture the feeling of dread that runs throughout the book. This movie wasn’t terrifying; it was pretty boring.
As I was watching, my mind began to wander. I began to wonder why, when this book had frightened me so much, why was this movie so bloody boring? Take that question a step further: why do so many of Stephen King’s great books turn out to be such mediocre movies? Looking at King’s IMDb page, I can see that as of today (4/7/2019) he is credited as a writer on 288 different projects, and of those 288, 36 of those projects are currently in development. King is one of the most prolific horror writers of our time, and he has some absolutely wonderful stories, but how many of his horror movies could you say are amazing (horror Stephen King- were not counting dramas like “Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile”)? Four or five? Maybe less…. Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining” is a fantastic film, but King has famously denounced that movie for pillaging his source material and turning it into something its not. DePalma’s adaptation of “Carrie” is probably the best, and truest adaptation of a Stephen King horror book, but it’s still not very scary by modern standards. The same goes for Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone”; it’s good, but not scary. The most recent adaptation of “It” was also a lot of fun, but still suffers from lack of scares.
I think King’s books and stories are hard to adapt because they force the reader to do a lot of internalizing. The reason that Pet Sematary, the novel, was so frightening was because there was an underlying level of dread that Louis himself brings to the novel. When Gage dies in the book, we already know that Louis is going to bury his son in the cemetery. Hell, Louis himself knows he’s going to rebury Gage in the cemetery (he picks a kind of burial plot without a cement seal, and hence easier to dig up). Watching Louis internally rationalize with himself, even knowing that the end result will be the same, is ultimately the most terrifying part of the book, and this film does nothing to capture that.
Another thing I found rather annoying about this film was the fact that it seemed to take into account the fact that the 80s version is considered kind of a classic (beats me why), and many people have seen it. There are four or five scenes where I tensed, knowing that such and such story beat was coming, and every time, the film tried to subvert my expectations in rather unimaginative ways (instead of Gage dying, it’s Ellie; instead of Jud getting his heel slit by the bed, he gets it slit by the stairs). These small little changes seemed to be treated like huge alterations in the film, and really, it did nothing to change the storyline.
I have a hard time being convinced that anything in this film would scare anyone who has ever braved a PG13 horror flick. There is one particularly gory scene and there are a few F-bombs, but other than that, this is an incredibly tame R-rated horror film. The scenes that are meant to be scary are tensionless and melodramatic. Also, just a note to the production designer: fog-shrouded landscapes and a bunch of crooked crosses don’t inherently lend themselves to being a spooky setting. I love a good gothic horror piece, but gothic horror elements don’t fit with every horror story setting. The overabundance of both soupy fog and tawdry tombstones made me wonder if James Whale’s (“Frankenstein”, “The Wolf Man”) production designer might still be alive and working.
Honestly, I could probably talk about how disappointing this film was for three thousand words, but it wouldn’t be worth your time or mine.
Don’t see this movie.
It’s boring and stupid, and that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about that.
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