Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.
Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) are well-meaning parents. With 8-year old daughter Elle (Jeté Laurence) 2-year old Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie), and the family cat Church, packed into the family car, they leave Boston behind and move their family to the rural backroads of Maine. With hopes of a simpler life ahead, the family moves into a country house that is situated on an expansive piece of land. Little do they know that nestled deep within their acreage is a sinister piece of earth that has the ability to resurrect the dead in mysterious and unexpectedly evil ways. PET SEMATARY is arguably one of Stephen King’s most disturbing pieces of work and with this adaptation of the bestselling novel, we get an adequate, if not entirely effective outcome that is brave enough to take liberties while shying away from giving the material any real life.
Jud (John Lithgow) is the first neighbor that they meet. Living on the other side of the small, but oddly-busy two-lane country road that cuts between their properties, Jud spends his days chopping wood and tending to his homestead, years after losing his wife. Jud and the new family hit it off nicely in fact, and everything seems to be going well enough.
That is until one of the many diesel trucks that zooms past the properties ends up hitting the family cat. Louis and Rachel argue what to tell their children. Rachel argues for the comfortable lie that the cat ran away whereas Louis, the practical man of science believes that dead is dead, and honesty is the best policy when it comes to the uncomfortable subject of mortality. That’s when Jud, concerned over Elle’s feelings over the loss of her pet, decides to show Louis a sacred and isolated patch of land that brings anything back to life when the dead are buried there. Viola! The cat comes back, as they say, but not exactly the same. Knappy-haired, hissing, and being an overall jerk, even by cat standards, it becomes clear that sometimes dead is better.
Great. Lesson learned. Don’t bury things in the secret burial ground beyond the Pet Sematary on the property. Then the unimaginable happens. Tragedy strikes. Practical Louis wrestles with an ethical dilemma and decides to right a wrong with the powers he has yet to fully comprehend. If you haven’t heard of the premise for Pet Sematary but are still sensitive to spoilers, I must ask how you have managed to avoid it this long? Regardless, what follows are the horrors of the inability to come to terms with the unknown.
Working from the story by King from a script by Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler, Pet Sematary is a mechanically sound, if not entirely scary piece of storytelling. In the process, however, logic is at times swept aside and we are left to wonder why on more than a few occasions. “Why would Jud show Louis the dangerous spec of land that resurrects the dead if he knew it was a bad idea to begin with?” is one question alone that would really help to get answered. It’s as if the story beats were etched in stone regardless of logic flaws. The approach actually works for the most part and a lot better than you would expect. There is a certain efficiency to the proceedings that must be admired even if things wobble here and there.
Another point of note is the expanded roles of females in this new version. Compared to the original 80’s classic, this Pet Sematary gives a lot more attention and screen time to the female characters in the story. Again, a wonderful thing to be able to say but when a B Plot with wife Rachel’s past adds nothing more to the storyline than runtime, you begin to wonder about things.
Speaking of the performances, I was pleasantly surprised by Seimetz‘s performance. Her ability to play the supportive, yet terrified parent gives us a look at some great scenes. That is also, not to mention Laurence as Elle. She carries a certain believability, that feels honest. Then there is Lithgow who gives Fred Gwynne a run for his money in the role of Jud.
I will commend directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer for having the fortitude to update this story for a new generation but it is, aside from a few jump-scares a far less emotionally provocative movie. This version really builds a thesis on life, death, the unknown and whatever there is in between, yet lacks the key details that would send this adaptation from spooky movie to visceral horror movie. Regardless, I still had a fair time watching a good film avoid being a great one.