“Pet Sematary’s” Tag Line Describes The 2019 Reboot The Best….That “Sometimes Dead Is Better”.
Stephen King is a name that is unanimous to pop culture fans and geeks around the world. He is no doubt one of “the masters of horror” as fans are constantly in awe of his prolific work, which has made for a lifetime of great reads and countless classic film adaptations. With titles like “Carrie”, “The Shining”, “Misery”, “Stand by Me”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, among countless others. He is a novelist who is one of the most adapted to the big screen, right alongside Nicolas Sparks.
It’s safe to say tho that Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” is no Nicolas Sparks novel. Published on November 14, 1983 to a 374 page book, King’s novel only took 6 years to become a major motion picture. The film adaptation was released April 21st, 1989 and directed by then first time Hollywood filmmaker Mary Lambert. Starring: Dale Midkiff and “The Munsters” star Fred Gwynne, the films screenplay was written by none other than the maestro himself Stephen King. “Pet Sematary” was such a hit that the studio asked Mary Lambert to direct it’s sequel simply titled “Pet Sematary 2” in 1992. A sequel with a whole new cast including: “E.R.” star Anthony Edwards and Edward Furlong from “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. It was a sequel that did poorly in theaters as it doesn’t live up to it’s original but is actually not a bad film.
Now 30 years almost till the day of the film’s original release, we are either blessed or cursed with a remake/reboot of the original 1989 film. “Pet Sematary” has stood as one of Stephen King’s most instantly recognizable works, also put that with the ginormous success of 2017’s remake of “IT”, another classic Stephen King property. It’s no wonder the classic 1989 original is getting a remake courtesy of up and coming directors Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer.
If they are going to start this trend of re-making all of Stephen King’s novels that has already gotten film adaptations. Then they have a high bar to try and beat because 2017’s “IT” remake was phenomenal. The new “Pet Sematary” is no where near as good as the remake of “IT”, nor is it anywhere as good as the made for TV adaptations of King’s work. As Jud Crandall says in both versions of the film “Sometimes Dead Is Better” that rings true here as this should have stayed in the ground where it belonged.
Co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Wildmyer don’t waste any time in sprinkling horror-movie elements. Such as: the speeding truck whizzing by, scaring the life out of folks; a cryptic flashback alluding to a past tragedy, and the obligatory “it was only a dream, or was it?” moment.
There’s a lot of talk about death among the Creed family, as Ellie wants to know why pets don’t live as long as humans? Rachel mom to Ellie and wife to Louis is repeatedly haunted by the long, slow, terrible death of her sister Zelda (who gets a bigger part than she had in the original). However Louis believes that when you die, that’s it. But Rachel wants their children to believe there is an afterlife. Talk about a depressing family night. Can’t the Creed’s find a night to watch a movie together or play a board game?
The new “Pet Sematary” follows the basic structure of the original film and book as Dr. Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and their two kids Gage and Ellie, relocate from Boston to rural Maine. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground known as “Pet Sematary” hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbour Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an evil that comes with horrific consequences. For those who have seen the trailer have been rudely spoiled to a change in story that King had originally created for both the book and the 89 film. It would have been nice to discover it for ourselves, especially for those who are so familiar with the original story. Their is even a character who suffers Death by Dumbwaiter, which seems more like an outtake from a “Scary Movie” reboot.
Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Wildmyer and screenwriter Jeff Buhler (“The Midnight Meat Train”) brings a lot of new twists to the story but none of them stick. The ending for one isn’t as effective or frightening as the 89 version. The characterization of Jud, the friendly old-fellow living next door who unwittingly sets the whole tragedy in motion couldn’t have been casted better, with John Lithgow affecting as Jud. What was great about Fred Gwynne was that he had brought a real warmth, which is completely missing from Lithgow’s version.
Hardcore fans will be happy that this new version mentions the Wendigo, an evil spirit from Native American lore that controls all the ancient cemetery’s wicked resurrections, which the 1989 film completely jettisoned that part of the book. However don’t get your hopes up: in this new film, the Wendigo gets minor lip service and not much else. When you see someone pulling out a kitchen knife from its wooden block and pops out from behind the bed for a surprise attack, you know this film is really shuffling along familiar territory. This movie relies on familiar territory a lot. Giving jump scares and cliched horror movie tropes. They force the cliched horror through obvious images, that’s not what this movie should have been about.
Mary Lambert’s 1989 version of the story is an excellent film, and easily one of the best King adaptations; adoringly faithful to the events of the novel, it pulls off the much harder trick of capturing the creepy, freaky, icky feel of King’s weird tale of a cemetery that brings dead animals back to life. It feels bold and subversive and strange, and the performances are note perfect, in that they’re eerie and off-putting. The new film is a classy and polished production with drab color palette of the James Wan “Conjuring” universe cinematography.
This time around, Louis only seems mildly bothered by the soul-crushing loss of his child, which robs “Pet Sematary” of the emotional anarchy that gives it it’s purpose. While the original film had real felt emotion during the accident scene as opposed to this one which is just emotionless. The actors in Lambert’s film weren’t playing it “for real”, they were playing it as King wrote them, which was really one of the best things about the 89 film. Lambert’s film felt dirty and arty, as this one feels polished and clean. It’s just a commercial product and an unnecessary one.
Movies like “Hereditary”, “Get Out”, “US”, “Mandy”, “It Follows” or the remake of “IT” are making this one hell of a time to be a horror fan. “Pet Sematary” should have been what “Hereditary” is by brilliantly playing off the shared family trauma of loss. King’s story is indeed a tragedy, but too little time is spent establishing the Creed family. They don’t feel like a living, breathing unit, even Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz don’t have the chemistry that Dale Midkiff and his onscreen wife had. In Mary Lambert’s original, they came off as more of a unit and family then they do here. “Pet Sematary” 2019 is not really sitting at the top of the heap, especially when it’s being a follow up to “IT”. But I’ll tell you what…the cat’s performance is great though.
GRADE: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5)