I have nothing but love for the 1989 version of Pet Sematary. It was one of the first Stephen King things I was ever introduced to and, though I haven’t seen it in quite some time, I’m sure it would still work just fine. But some of that is surely tied to nostalgia. It was time for an update that modern audiences can enjoy on the big screen for themselves and that update is here courtesy of directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. For a variety of reasons, this hauntingly ambitious take on the source material makes for a decidedly different take on King’s novel that fans of the book, original movie, or people that have never encountered this tale before can enjoy.
Pet Sematary centers on Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) who, along with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two young children, Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lovie) and Ellie (Jete Laurence), leave the busy city life behind and relocate to a small, seemingly quiet rural town in Maine. Their vast property, as Ellie discovers, contains a burial ground that the locals use to bury their dead pets. And it has more going on than it seems on the surface. When tragedy befalls the family, Louis calls upon his neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who has lived there for years and, reluctantly, shows him the secrets that lie beyond the cemetery in their backyard, putting a perilous and unholy chain of events into motion.
There are a few ways one could approach source material like this. There is the pretty straightforward, cat/daughter dies, we bury them in the woods, they come back to life and people die sort of way. Then there’s the way that Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, the duo behind the indie horror hit Starry Eyes, approach it. They have a truly visionary, deep and complex take on Stephen King’s novel that takes some very serious liberties, while also maintaining its integrity and overarching themes. It’s a tough thing to do, but they’ve done it. Because of that, it doesn’t feel like repeat viewing for those who have seen the 1989 version, nor does it feel like it’s giving the finger to the book. It feels fresh and deeply inspired.
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Visually, the movie is stunning. This is a big horror flick that the studio was happy to give a budget to in order to make it as good as could possibly be. Even though there is so much darkness and so much dreadful stuff going on, everything always looks stunning. Sometimes those stunning visuals are also hideous and will provide plenty of bad dream fuel, but never not impressive. To that point, the filmmakers pull no punches. Some of the visuals are majorly gruesome and vivid. At the same time, this isn’t just some bloody shock fest. There are tons of jump scares (that are well earned, I might add), in addition to some really messed up, beautifully executed psychological horror going on. There’s something here for every variety of horror fan.
From a performance standpoint, it’s hard to ask for any better. Jason Clarke has been trapped in some unfortunately not-so-great movies in the past (Terminator: Genisys), or he’s been outshined by what was happening around him (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). This is the best version of Clarke and he was the best man for the job. Perhaps his best performance to date. Amy Seimetz is, in a word, outstanding. The “mom” role sometimes runs the risk of being boring. Not here, and that’s all Semetz. John Lithgow, as he always does, hits his part out of the park in a perfectly cast role, elevates the material and is a credit to the movie. We also have a standout, breakout performance from the young Jete Laurence. Some of the major changes made to the material were done in order to showcase her talents. And it was worth it. Also, Church the cat is destined to become a horror icon after this.
There is something in the water right now. Some combination of the times we live in, studios taking horror very seriously and the right filmmakers out there with the right vision, but we’re living in a golden age of Stephen King adaptations. I’m not going to say this is the best King adaptation of all time. I will, however, say that this is one of the most bold and innovate interpretations of his work ever put to screen. This is unquestionably an A-list Stephen King movie. Pet Sematary arrives on April 5 from Paramount Pictures.
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