PET SEMATARY is the latest film from Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes) and is a modern adaptation of the seminal novel from acclaimed horror author Stephen King. The film stars Jason Clarke (Winchester), Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant), Jeté Laurence (The Snowman), Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, and John Lithgow (Interstellar).
PET SEMATARY follows Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), who, after relocating with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two young children from Boston to rural Maine, discovers a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near the family’s new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his unusual neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unfathomable evil with horrific consequences.
When it was announced that there was going to be a remake of the beloved 1989 movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, you could audibly hear the groans. This was followed by abject disdain from the majority of fans when the first trailer revealed that Gage not only lives, but his sister is the one to be killed. These dramatic keyboard warriors took to the internet to condemn what they considered to be an ungodly change to one of King’s most famous stories, while some of us championed the new transition. With that said, I was lucky enough to attend the World Premiere of PET SEMATARY at SXSW last week and I’m happy to report that the film not only met all my expectations but kept with the spirit of King’s writing, while also including many surprises NOT seen in the trailer.
There were a lot of factors that needed to be met in order for this film to work, and both Kölsch and Widmyer knew that going in. Most importantly, the performances had to be believable which is why choosing the right actors was paramount. In regards to Louis and Rachel Creed, I think Jason and Amy were both perfect for the roles. They both brought incredibly emotional performances that felt genuine and sincere, allowing the audience to form a connection with them as they experience the most horrific of events – the loss of a child. Their reactions are never over-the-top or gratuitous, instead realistically heartbreaking as painful tears roll down their cheeks. As for the most iconic character in the film, that of Jud Crandall, John Lithgow gives a glowing performance that combines some of Jud’s characteristic from the book while also making the character his own. I think the reason I loved Lithgow’s performance so much was that he didn’t copy or rely on Fred Gwynne’s performance from the 1989 film. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Jeté Laurence’s take on Ellie Creed. She was able to combine childlike innocence with an unnerving transformation resulting in a performance that will stay with you long after the film is over.
The biggest issue that people seem to be concerned about surrounds the story. For the most part, you can expect a lot of what the book offers, but writers Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler, who penned the screenplay, definitely took liberties in order to expand on what King created. For me personally, I felt that changing the death from Gage to Ellie was smart due to the relationship she has with her dad and how often they talk, or don’t talk, about death. Sure, the impact of a toddler being run over by a truck is traumatic enough, but what Greenberg and Buhler offer in this rendition allows for a much deeper and emotional blow. At the end of the day, this is a film that focuses on how we deal with loss and grief, as well as the extent one is willing to go to bring back the person they love. The overall story is powerful and the few changes that the writers took doesn’t change that at all. To be quite honest, I actually think this adaptation elevates the film (I didn’t say “elevated horror” so don’t come after me with pitchforks) to allow for a better discussion on how to deal with loss and trauma.
Familiar characters from both the book and the movie return, such as the subsequence appearances of Victor Pascow (played by Abssa Ahmed) and his interaction with Louis as well as Rachel’s sister, Zelda (played by Alyssa Brooke Levine), who is grotesquely disfigured due to having spinal meningitis, and who haunts Rachel’s thoughts after she succumbs to her condition. Though 2019’s Zelda may not be as iconic as the one from 1989, she still managed to give me chills each and every time she appeared on the screen. As for Church, the feline pet that Ellie loves so much and is the physical catalyst for all that happens, well, he’s just as ferocious as you would expect. The subtle feelings of uneasiness start early on in the film and gain a steady momentum before culminating in the third act. If you think you know how the film is going to end, I can almost assure you that you’re wrong. Though the scares are plentiful, nothing could have prepared me for the last two minutes of the film which received an audible gasp from the audience before cutting to the credits. Not all scares have to be jump-worthy, sometimes the scariest ones are the emotional triggers and heartwrenching moments that get embedded in our brain, only to then be conjured up in the dead of night.
I say all of this mainly to those who are hating on the movie without giving it a chance. Kölsch and Widmyer have created something special with their adaptation and it deserves to be seen before making judgments. The film’s special effects follow in the footstep of its predecessor in that it is mainly done with practical effects with the incorporation of some beautifully haunting and surreal imagery. As I mentioned earlier, the performances really drive home the themes of the story as they bring a lot of the heart and anguish from the book’s description onto the screen. Add all of that in with a tightly woven story and a third act that will leave you stunned and disturbed, it’s no wonder why it’s received so much praise since it’s World Premiere. Jud may believe that sometimes dead is better, but in the case of 2019’s PET SEMATARY, we are so glad that it was resurrected for a new generation of movie-goers. Don’t miss PET SEMATARY when it’s released in theaters April 5, 2019.