And so the Stephen King renaissance continues. Though there’s been the odd misstep, Gerald’s Game and the It remake reminded us how much we missed Stephen King horror movies. Aside from the next chapter of It, Pet Sematary has been one of the more hotly anticipated King adaptations. Yet questionable marketing decisions and lukewarm critical response have cooled off early enthusiasm. So is Pet Sematary the adaptation of King’s novel we’ve been waiting for? Or is the remake stonier than a man’s heart.
Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, move along with their children to Ludlow, Maine. The move promises a fresh start in a small country house on acres of wooded land. But the Creed’s home also backs onto the ‘Pet Sematary’, a shrine for the local kids’ dead pets. Not soon after their arrival, Louis finds the family cat, Church, dead on the busy road. To spare his daughter, Ellie, the loss of her friend, elderly neighbour, Jud, takes Louis to a secret burial ground hidden beyond the Pet Sematary. The sacred grounds bring things back, but Louis quickly learns that they don’t come back the same.
Pet Sematary Remake Rests On Sour Ground
Despite the opportunity to do something new with King’s novel, the Pet Sematary remake doesn’t offer much different from Mary Lambert’s 1989 version. Screenwriter Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train) tinkers here and there with the material, but largely retains and excises the same bits. Those changes that are introduced are superficial. The local kids’ creepy pet funeral ritual has potential for deeper scares. Unfortunately, directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer don’t do anything with it. What Pet Sematary leaves us with is an increasingly stale horror staple – creepy animal masks.
…Pet Sematary’s biggest blunder is how its one truly shocking twist was handled.
However, Pet Sematary’s biggest blunder is how its big twist was handled. Promotional materials inexplicably gave this one away a month ago. It’s a mind-boggling decision given that this really is the movie’s big switch. Yes, Kolsch and Widmyer mix things up in the climax. But the story still mostly ends in the same place as the 1989 movie. All the changes are just surface-level. Somewhere in the remake was some potentially interesting subtext on death and grief. That the pragmatic Louis, who favours confronting death with reason, is the one who can’t let go offers hints at deeper meaning. Sadly, it’s a conflict that’s raised but never fully explored.
Workmanlike Scares and Rapid Pacing Bury Deeper Suspense
However, Pet Sematary’s familiarity isn’t the remake’s biggest problem. You’ll find a few good jolts in this treatment of King’s classic novel. Kolsch and Widmyer have some fun with a dumbwaiter that should elicit a good jump. To their credit, the directors also wring suspense out of a scene that remains largely unchanged from the original. Nevertheless, Pet Sematary relies too much on loud sounds and sharp edits for its ‘gotcha’ moments. In addition, the normally reliable Christopher Young’s score is bland and, at times, overwhelming.
It’s a case of the movie having to ‘tell us’ rather than ‘show us’.
Pet Sematary also suffers from assembly-line pacing that, while efficient, sucks suspense from the proceedings. Stuff just seems to happen. Motivations are unclear or unsupported and other things feel like they’re in the movie because they have to be in it. Victor Pascow, for example, turns up again, but he feels even more superfluous than in the 1989 movie. You’ll also find it hard to believe that John Lithgow’s “Jud” cares about the Creeds enough to show Louis the secret burial ground. It’s a case of the movie having to ‘tell us’ rather than ‘show us’. And the ‘new’ ending just felt underwhelming.
Some Remakes Should Stay Buried
Neither better nor worse than the 1989 movie, Pet Sematary fixes some things while messing up in completely new ways. It’s an oddly detached movie that occasionally scares but still misses the heart of what made King’s novel so unnerving. Maybe it’s time for that Maximum Overdrive remake..