Movie Review: “Pet Sematary” – Cats in Bags

Written by Jeremiah Greville April 11, 2019

Spoilers, man. If you’ve seen any trailer for Pet Sematary (no, not Cemetery — it’s a whole thing) after the first, you probably know the broad plot of this film already. The trailer I’ve included below is the least-spoilery of the three released by Paramount Pictures, but that’s not saying a lot. View it at your peril. It’s a shame that so much was given away so quickly with this film, as there are genuine surprises for newcomers and the previously initiated. If you’re a fan of the original or have ever read the novel, there are definitely things to appreciate here. But boy oh boy…those spoilers. I will not let any cats out of the bag in the following review, because spoilers suck. Just when you think you’ve avoided them all, they have a way of coming back and ruining everything. Almost like the dead.

Pet Sematary is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler. It stars Jason Clarke as Louis Creed, a Boston doctor who moves his family to small-town Maine to spend more time with them. Soon after getting acquainted with their new house and elderly neighbour, Jud (John Lithgow), they learn that a local pet cemetery exists in the expansive woods behind their property. Deeper still exists something more sinister than any of them could expect. Pet Sematary also stars Amy Seimetz as Rachel Creed, Louis’ wife, and Jeté Laurence as Ellie Creed, their daughter. Matt Greenberg originally wrote the screenplay, but here receives ‘screen story’ credits for his efforts. The film is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Stephen King.

“Dying is natural.”

If you’ve had the film spoiled for you by trailers, then I have some good news: there are still surprises awaiting you. To the filmmakers’ credit, Pet Sematary seems to have been filmed with spoilers in mind, as if everyone involved knew the viewers would have some foreknowledge going in. As someone who saw the trailers, read the novel, and saw the original film as kid, I still had a good time. So while there are spoilers in Pet Sematary, it’s not a film that revolves around twists or unexpected events. It’s more akin to a rolling boulder — picking up speed and momentum as it inevitably reaches its final destination more or less as you’d expect. The journey, and how that final ‘thud’ affects you, is what’s important this time.

And like the original novel, Pet Sematary actually lands with some significant impact. The ending will hit harder for some than others, but it will hit. It’s a bold horror conclusion that arises naturally from the events of the film, yet still feels a bit like a revelation when you see it happen. The meat of the film, however, is what it’s all about, and Pet Sematary is atmospheric and chilling. Unfortunately, some of the choices throughout feel a bit cheap and out of place at times — the title cards evoke a sort of made-for-TV aesthetic that later slow-motion effects back up. It’s a film presentation that bounces between Hollywood big-budget horror and Lifetime Original at times, and it can be jarring.

Also, there are a few bad foley effects. My personal movie hell is filled with bad foley effects.

“One way or another, we all go into the ground.”

Another jarring thing about the film — though certainly in its favour — is the way it so effectively captures the hallucinogenic weirdness of King’s writing. For an author with so many adaptations under his belt, Stephen King remains difficult to pin down. Much of what he writes only works on the page — the moment it escapes to another medium, it loses whatever magic it once had. Pet Sematary actually translates a lot of the more bizarre aspects of the original novel that lesser adaptations might have skipped over altogether. This not only lends the film a bit more substance, it also helps illuminate the backstory of a character who might not have received one at all otherwise.

But when it comes to the characters, the film is a mixed bag. Some get fully-fleshed out backstories, while others are blank ciphers for the audience. The always slightly off-putting Jason Clarke is almost supernaturally ideal for horror — he looks like a halfway decent pencil sketch of a more handsome man, and that works here. Amy Seimetz is great in her role, but succumbs to the classic ‘horror-breath’ delivery that plagues 90% of horror films these days — once you notice it, you’ll never not-notice it. Child actress Jeté Laurence is given a lot to work with but can’t quite sell it all, and John Lithgow remains John Lithgow — great as ever. The actors are all good, but none rise above the material or elevate it memorably.

“Sometimes dead is better.”

Pet Sematary is an above-average horror film, but not much else. It’s a good creepy time that takes the best bits of the novel and effectively translates King to the screen. You’ll be able to guess what happens early on, but that’s okay since the trip there is mostly worth it. Still, I sympathize — the spoilers in the trailers for this film have been some of the worst in years. I’ve tried not to spoil anything in this review, but for a movie called Pet Sematary I do need to offer a warning: there is some violence towards animals. However, it’s not glorified or sensationalized. Pet Sematary isn’t concerned with immediate violence, but the effects following it. And if you’re in for the ride, it may affect you more than you think.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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