The Creeds move to a rural farmhouse in Maine to live a simpler life away from the city. They soon discover that a burial ground sits in the woods on their property where children bury their beloved pets. Yet it’s what lies beyond the little pet cemetery they should be worried about.
Depending on how you look at the film, it is both an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and a remake of the 1989 film of the same name. This latest iteration is written by Jeff Buhler (The Prodigy, Midnight Meat Train) and directed by duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer of Starry Eyes fame. While the film is based on Stephen King’s book, it took some liberties in the plot to create something a bit new for audiences. One thing this film did a great job of is capturing the mysticism of the Micmac burial ground beyond the pet cemetery. This is done by including a lot of the mythology from the book that was lost in the 1989 film such as the history of the land, the eeriness of the journey to the burial ground, and the legend of the wendigo. The filmmakers also emphasized the eeriness of this place through atmosphere and tension. It captures this aspect of the book very well while also conveying the grief the Creed family experiences after losing a child. Fans of Stephen King will notice a few cleverly placed Easter eggs along the way as well. These nods to the original literature, and to King himself, show the audience the filmmakers are doing their best to honor the source material, even though there are a few major changes to the plot.
Another successful aspect is the terror the film brings. Most of this is achieved through artistic means. The strange atmosphere of the swamp and the burial ground often is shrouded in darkness and made eerie with fog and strange noises. This is thanks primarily to fantastic set design and beautiful cinematography. From the pet cemetery itself to the Micmac burial ground, it is quite haunting to look at and only gets more eerie as the film progresses. The practical effects of the film are also absolutely stunning. The makeup effects for the living dead characters, even Church the cat, are perfectly done and utterly frightening. While I believe the daughter would be very disfigured after the crash we see on screen, I do still love how they were able to make her skin look gaunt and translucent with blue veins showing through the skin. The makeup effects on Zelda, who fans of the book and 1989 film will no doubt remember, are especially grotesque. They managed to not only make Zelda one of the most terrifying aspects of the film, but they did it both with amazing prosthetics and simply through the sounds she makes. It all combines to make a nightmarish film.
While I believe Pet Sematary does a great job of creating a dark and frightening film focusing on the burial ground, there are certain aspects of the plot that don’t work as well for me. One of the biggest issues is simply poor advertising. While I know this isn’t necessarily the fault of the filmmakers, it is still enough of a problem to be worth mentioning. In the film there are two parts where there is great effort and time put into building up certain scenes. This build up is always a reference to the 1989 film, leading the audience to expect one thing to happen, before suddenly having something unexpected happen. This is a brilliant tactic, yet the advertising ruined it. In both of these instances the “big twists” were already revealed in the trailer. I can only imagine the shock audiences would have experienced if these aspects had been kept under wraps. It ends up taking all the tension out of the scenes because we already know the scenes aren’t going to end up the way they appear. Another problem I have with the film is simply how it ended. I won’t get into specifics, but I will say not only did the film just end on an odd note, but I also feel like it completely negates the mythology created by King. This mythology is even referenced towards the beginning of the film, making the ending fall flat.
It is difficult not to compare the 1989 film to the 2019 Pet Sematary, especially when it comes to the acting. The 1989 film is great, don’t get me wrong, but there are some highly overacted moments. Luckily, this film has outstanding performances. Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Everest) plays Dr. Louis Creed. The emotion behind Clarke’s performance is heartbreaking to watch. Louis is such an endearing, although misguided character, and Clarke portrays him very well. The true breakout star of the film is Jeté Laurence (The Snowman, The Ranger) as Ellie Creed. The change in Laurence’s performance between when Ellie is alive vs undead is absolutely shocking and breathtaking. It is almost as if it is two different people playing the same character. More fantastic performances come from John Lithgow (Interstellar, Twilight Zone: The Movie) as the kindly old neighbor Jud and Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant, You’re Next) as the death-fearing wife Rachel Creed.
Pet Sematary manages to breath some new life into a story horror fans know and love. Kölsch and Widmyer’s directing skills perfectly capture the mystical elements present in King’s book, as well as the grief of losing a loved one. The film fell prey to some very poor advertising choices, revealing the secrets of the updated plot all too soon. On top of that, the ending is a very odd choice that will most likely polarize many lovers of the book and original film. I for one, thought the ending was a bizarre choice that didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Luckily, the amazing scares, gorgeous practical effects, and superb performances are incredibly enjoyable to watch. These successful elements make Pet Sematary a must-watch film.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10