The adaptation of Stephen King’s terrifying novel, Pet Sematary first made its way onto screens in 89 with Mary Lambert’s moody, and terrifying vision. And guys, that adaptation absolutely scared the hell out of in my youth. Zelda was a big reason for many sleep deprived nights. It was effective, and while it didn’t tackle a lot of stuff from the book it painted the broad strokes effectively well.
But we aren’t here to talk about that, I just mention it in contrast to our current adaptation of Pet Sematary from Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widyer, the guys behind the wonderfully, creative and terrifying, Starry Eyes.
There is a lot to dig into here but for those who are unfamiliar, Pet Sematary centers around the Creed family as they relocate to Maine. Upon arrival they discover that a burial ground on their land is the source of a great darkness with the power to reanimate whatever is buried there.
The Creed family and their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) are all superb and really live and breathe in their portrayal. Jason Clarke in particular effectually emotes many choices that would have played out in Louis Creed’s head in terms of the book. Amy Seimetz is an anchor for so many of the big emotional turns and absolutely nails each turn in her haunted depiction. But it has to be Jeté Laurence’s enormously haunting duality that really seals the deal on how great this cast is as an ensemble.
For those familiar with 89’s Pet Sematary, the first half of this new adaptation is pretty on the nose with those scenes. Which I can totally get behind, but there is some kind of rushed force behind the pacing of the scenes. Something that makes it feel a little bit less authentic rather than allowing itself to play around in King’s world.
At it’s midpoint the film, leaves behind the 89 adaptation and stretches its legs beginning with a major change from both the book and the pervious adaptation. I won’t spoil that here, but if you haven’t had it spoiled yet, I implore you not to watch the second trailer.
From the big change at its center, Pet Sematary becomes a mixed bag, partly exploring elements of King’s book that weren’t explored in Lambert’s film, and a twist that leaves us with something that feels all too familiar from films like The Ring, The Grudge and assorted possession films.
There are also moments of the film that feel as though the edges were padded in order to not get too dark and to not entirely go there. Some of the handling of Church the cat, Gage and especially Zelda are not fully taken to the dark levels that Lambert’s adaptation traveled. The choices for Zelda especially leave a lot to be wanted.
That isn’t too say those elements are totally done wrong because some of the scenes that are mixed in are positively haunting. I.e. a father sleeping next to a dead child or a recently reanimated child dancing in the family living room. There definitely is something that feels part familiar in a safe studio vein and then part creative Kölsch and Widmyer.
Laurie Rose (Kill List, Free Fire, Overlord) is one of my favorite cinematographers working today and his work is again freaking mind blowing. He understands a haunting composition and offers them throughout creating menace in subtext while allowing enough room in the frame for the audience’s imagination to explore. His work here is again perfect.
Added to Rose’s work Christopher Young scores the whole affair. That came as a complete and welcome surprise as the dude has done everything from Hellraiser to Drag Me to Hell. Entirely iconic, and proves that his genre soundscape sensibilities are still very much intact.
As we all know at this point from King’s material “They don’t come back the same,” and well they don’t get remade the same either. Kölsch and Widmyer partly take things in a new direction and while there is that onemajor change, the reward is getting to explore elements of the book we hadn’t seen on screen before. Their vision is very much executed through their use of dark comedy, seething drama and and the ability to create fear without relying on cheap jump scares.
Pet Sematary gets to the root of King and then slowly turns the screw. Despite some of its genre trope familiarities, it travels enough sour ground to successfully reach the stoniest horror fan hearts. It is entertaining from frame one and does a great job of creating an ending that is worth the entire price of admission alone.