Movie Review: "Pet Sematary" (2019)
My 1989 Pet Sematary confession comes in 2 parts. First, I saw the movie before I read the book. Secondly, it was the first movie (aside from the barely remembered tears of a hysterical 3 year-old in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial) that made me cry. That movie fucked me up…I’m assuming you know the part that did the job (of course you do). I met Miko Hughes (a.k.a. the first Gage Creed) at Texas Frightmare Weekend a few years back and told him that. He said it’s the most commonly heard story he gets.
I’m not surprised.
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is a story so dark that even the author himself is bothered by it. The thought of losing your child in that way and then having the power to do something about it goes into ridiculously taboo territory. If it doesn’t emotionally resonate with you, then you may just be a legitimate psychopath. I don’t say that lightly. It’s like a litmus test.
Naturally, when I found out that someone was going to remake/reimagine/reboot (whatever the fuck you want to call it) the admittedly imperfect but still fantastic original I was aghast. How dare you? It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s one of those movies. “Just leave it be!”, I screamed at the computer screen.
So, where do I stand now?
For the 3 people on Earth that don’t know the story, Louis Creed (Jason Clarke; Zero Dark Thirty) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz; You’re Next) relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their soon-to-be 9 year-old daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence; The Snowman), and toddler son, Gage. Louis is a doctor at the local university who’s looking to get away from the craziness of the city hospital and spend more time with his nuclear family. Ellie meets their neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow; Dexter, 3rd Rock From the Sun) and discovers there’s a pet cemetery on their 50-acre property. Tragedy soon strikes the family cat, Church, and Jud reveals to Louis that there’s a place beyond the pet cemetery that resurrects the dead…but they don’t come back quite the same. Bigger tragedy soon strikes, and the place shows just how powerful evil can be and how deep a parent’s love and grief really is.
While my fears were largely unfounded (thanks to some audacious choices in the second act and one hell of a performance from young Jeté Laurence), Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer’s film mirrors the ‘89 version in some flaws. The first act feels very rushed and note for note; it’s much more of a traditional remake in that way. It flies by with all of the stuff you’ve seen before. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, there’s simply nothing new being done. Jason Clarke (much like Dale Midkiff in the original) is about as dry as toast from a charisma standpoint and not overly believable until the grieving and release from sanity kicks in.
If you simply appreciate the legendary John Lithgow’s take on Jud Crandall (a character practically owned by the late Fred Gwynne) and the fantastic location they shot in, you’ll get through just fine until that moment.
You know that moment, don’t you? The one the trailer totally ruined for millions?
Here’s the thing: it’s beautifully constructed in a nod to the original, utterly logical, and wonderfully shot. This time around, there’s no pulling back from the end results (tastefully, though), and it’s some heartbreaking shit. I have a 14 year-old daughter, and I felt that shit so hard. It’s genuinely difficult to watch. Once the accident happens, the movie shifts gears and becomes a thing of near beauty.
From the moment Louis makes up his mind to do the unthinkable, the air of menace becomes palpable. The path to the sour ground is a set design to die for (pun intended). The exchanges between father and daughter are as real as it gets. The switch flip that Laurence pulls off as Ellie is astounding from a kid so young. She’s terrifying in her evil but also her humanity- she knows she’s dead and she’s not fucking happy about it.
There’s your kicker that the original was missing by way of comparison to the brilliant source material- a consciousness of the evil and the personality of those returned. This Pet Sematary also does all the right things to detail how the force in the earth out there manipulates and destroys the mind of its victims. The Wendigo is given more attention, as well. I can’t express how much that helped. By the time the crescendo rolls around, you know you’re dealing with a force that is ludicrously powerful.
It’s a force as powerful as the grief of a parent, and isn’t that the hell of it all?
Keep your eyes peeled for a handful of cool little easter eggs (like who’s calling the trucker). They’re clever nods and make you smile. Also, protect that Achilles tendon. They’re pretty tender…it’d be a shame if something sharp got too close to it. And the cat, Church? How great is it that they literally lifted the cat off the cover of the hardback and onto the screen. I appreciate shit like that. This cat absolutely kills the cat from the original hands down. Your argument is invalid. Zelda is still nasty as hell (though I prefer the original for what it’s worth).
The ending? Bold. Really bold and different. It’s almost as dark as another King gem, The Mist. If you remember the end of that one, then you’re starting to pick up what I’m throwin’ down. By the time this one was all said and done, I was satisfied. The spirit of the book, as they say, is alive and well with this new take (even if it does take a while to become its own thing).
Now cue that freakin’ song!