Pet Sematary, 2019.
Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer.
Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, Obssa Ahmed, Alyssa Brooke Levine, Sonia Maria Chirila, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie, and John Lithgow.
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.
There are three versions of Pet Sematary: The 1983 novel, a bona fide horror classic and arguable the most harrowing novel ever written; the 1989 film, a laughable excuse for an adaptation that hammered home the rule that working with kids and animals is a bad idea; and the 2019 version, which is somewhere in between.
Adapting a novel is always tricky business. Even three-hour films have a hard time capturing the intricacies of four-hundred-page manuscripts, so it’s no surprise that 2019’s Pet Sematary is a far more streamlined endeavour than the original novel. For the most part, this is not a bad thing. The film is consistently depressing for all the right reasons, and the horror delivers not just frights, but also moments of visceral disgust and sadness. Essentially, the straightforward script captures the spirit of the novel, even if it leaves out some of the more sophisticated features, such as Louis’ troubled relationship with Rachel’s parents.
This spirit is maintained not only through the solid script, but also through some great performances. Jason Clarke’s Louis is particularly great, transitioning from a cheery family man to someone utterly broken by grief, only then to be driven insane by the weight of his own actions. Although the focus on grief’s impact on one’s psyche is not as prevalent as it is in artier films such as Hereditary – or the original novel for that matter – its inclusion puts the narrative a step above the average.
Speaking of average, Pet Sematary has its fair share of generic horror moments. There are more jump-scares than I’d care to see, though at least there are no false jump-scares. The colour palate is grey, red, and more grey, and the score mostly consist of eerie low rumbles and LOUD NOISES. All of these features are well done, but far from original, and though they are often outweighed by the sheer impact of the source material, they hold the film back from reaching the lofty heights of the novel.
Pet Sematary has one other flaw that, to the filmmakers credit, is utterly unavoidable. The medium of film is simply not the best for telling this particular story. Whereas books force the reader to actively engage with their material, films allow their audiences to sit back and absorb most of their content with little effort. For a story that is meant to be as purposefully effortful as this one, the former medium does a better job. King’s novel is not just scary; it’s brutally depressing, and is a prime example of what I dub moral-horror. The really scary thing about Pet Sematary is not the wendigo, the reincarnation, or the death of a child, it’s the knowledge that in Louis’ position, you would act no differently. This fact is easy to detach yourself from while watching a film, but near impossible to detach yourself from while reading the book. Why? Because you chose to keep reading, to keep experiencing Louis’ pain with him at the expense of your own imaginative energy. Sure, you choose to keep watching the film too, but at what cost? The price of a ticket and one-hundred minutes of your time.
Having said all of this, Kolsch and Widmyer’s Pet Sematary is still a decent horror movie. Though the lack of moral-horror may make it less impactful that the novel, there is still plenty to see in this robustly made, well-acted, and relentlessly harrowing film. And it sure is a damn sight better than the 1989 version.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
James Turner is a writer and musician based in Sheffield. You can follow him on Twitter @JTAuthor