Some say, when you leave this world, you go to a dark place, a purgatory, before you leave it for good… never to return
Some say that death cannot be cheated.
Once you die, you cannot come back.
For the reaper will claim your soul.
Well “they” weren’t known for brevity, were “they”? Welcome to PET GRAVEYARD and what I’m sure we all thought from the title alone was a Pet Semetary knock-off sent out just in time for the remake to hit theaters. Except… it’s…. not?
PET GRAVEYARD opens with a car gently and ominously entering a mechanic’s garage in the dark of night. A frightened woman exits the vehicle requesting assistance from the lone mechanic before she dips back in to assure her bleeding male passenger, “it’s all gonna be alright. I’m gonna sort the car out and we’re… we’re gonna go.” Suddenly she receives a phone call and, from the one-sided conversation, we’re given quite a bit of scary exposition. Someone else is dead, they went under for a skull and these two characters… are next. As the mechanic watches horrified, this strange man and woman die, seemingly killing themselves. We follow both doomed characters out of the physical realm to a dark, shadowy place where they meet a looming, heavy-robed creature. Smash cut to black. The title card comes up, Pet Graveyard, with accompanying spooky score before we’re whisked away to “Present Day”.
From here we meet Lily, hopeful nursing candidate, and her brother Jeff, social media daredevil vlogger influencer?… it’s not made entirely clear aside from that Jeff has a “channel” he updates with vids of him climbing tall buildings. Sister and brother lost their mother abruptly and now Jeff has a plan to cross over with Zara and Francis, each also grieving a loss, to the “other side” to see their loved ones again. The act of crossing over is called “Brinking” and this film has nothing to do with reanimated pets from a cursed cemetery. It’s a Flatliners rip-off. Surprised? I know I was when I realized I was 50 minutes in and had yet to see a single insidious pet aside from a hairless cat.
Interesting to note, PET GRAVEYARD was originally titled Reaper but changed, I assume, to ride on the marketing of the April 5th Pet Semetary release. And that would be hilarious, if the movie was worth that sneaky effort. It’s just… boring. Scenes run too long, the make-up effects lazy, the dialogue blunt and lacking in subtlety and I cannot deal with a Grim Reaper who kills with a giant red wrench, like some sort of Clue extension. I assume the budget was small, and no one likes DIY horror more than me, but even on a shoestring budget, you can nail specifics. The Grim Reaper’s robe looks like it was bought straight out of Oriental Trading. It’d take one second to dust some dirt on the fabric to age it but in every scene, it appears clean, brand new and, well, cheap. The blood effects don’t match in color or consistency, sometimes thick and sometimes drippy, sometimes deep red sometimes brighter than an Argento death scene. Our mains kill themselves through suffocation with a plastic sheet held over their faces but it’s not TIGHT which, maybe, was a deliberate choice to see the actor’s expressions clearly as they “died” but really just took away from the creep factor. And the Grim Reaper, when slipping into the real world, kills people with an array of items such as a knife and an extendable shower head like the Grim Reaper isn’t DEATH ITSELF. I asked myself, why does the Grim Reaper need an axe?
It was a film of missed opportunities which is unfortunate because it’s clear the clever ideas were there just not fully utilized. The concept of death being you alone in a dark place forever is horrifying and heartbreaking. The mains choosing to kill themselves (temporarily) on a social media channel had such story potential in our post “youtube celebrity Logan Paul” filming in Aokigahara (the Japanese “suicide forest”) digital world. And why even use the Grim Reaper when you can write in any sort of lying demon from another world and avoid all questioning of accuracy when using a very well-known dark entity in popular culture?
But PET GRAVEYARD isn’t a BAD film, it’s just not much fun and not as engaging as it would like to be. And I can’t in all fairness leave this review without giving a shout-out to the true standout performance, Nimoy (of Mother Krampus fame) hairless cat and “pet” of the Grim Reaper. From Nimoy’s first appearance lolling about on a gravestone, I knew I was in for a treat. Whether Nimoy was being a super handsome cat in front of a church or popping up at the end of a bed in the dark, red eyes flickering, he steals the scene and, dare I say, the SOULS of the viewing audience.
PET GRAVEYARD arrives on DVD/Digital on April 2nd.