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.
After moving to the sleepy, woodland town of Ludlow, a family faces tragedy and demonic evil emanating from a distant point deep in the forest. Behind the misspelt sign for the local graveyard for deceased pets lies something entirely more chilling.
A lorry thunders down a road, providing the first of a string of jumps in the 2nd film adaptation of Stephen King’s creepy novel, Pet Sematary. A tale of old world magic, resurrection and demonic cats, directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer promise new chills and thrills, and something a little bit different for fans of either the book or the original 1989 film.
A huge challenge when adapting a book is trying to fit everything in the novel into the relatively short runtime of a film. As with any literary adaptation, Jeff Buhler’s screenplay sacrifices elements to tell the story in 100 minutes, adding his own creative touch elsewhere. Coupling this fact with the horror genre’s tendency to manufacture underwritten characters, and issues begin to claw their way to the surface. Family members Rachel and Ellie are arguably equal protagonists to father Louis, but are afforded so little time to develop in comparison. Rachel, played by a suitably wide eyed Amy Seimetz, is a mother whose only defining feature is that she is scared of death, and Jete Laurence’s Ellie is bland beyond interest. Conversely, the script does bring a lot of focus to Louis, and one of the film’s biggest strengths is in how easy it is to identify with him throughout his extreme situation. Every action this loving father and husband undertakes is utterly logical and grimace inducing – he can’t help but egg on his own slow descent into tragedy and horror.
The horror Louis and family encounter is frustrating in a way, oscillating between what you might expect from this kind of film, and genuine scares. Kolsch and Widmyer are happy to provide clichés: mist filled forests and whispered voices only the protagonist hears, but their use of sound design is undeniably excellent. Providing most of the jumps, the visceral soundscape employs crafty shock tactics and bombards with sheer volume to make its point. Almost in the background, John Lithgow shines as kind neighbour Jud, cursed with sympathy and dangerous knowledge. Once again, however, the script denies what could have been: the sadness of Jud’s existence is tempered by the fact that he and Louis never achieve the father-son dynamic hinted early on.
In Stephen King’s own introduction to his novel, he states Pet Sematary to be “the most frightening book I’ve ever written”. Whether that sentiment translates to the big screen in this adaptation is something very much up for debate. Widmyer and Kolsch provide a slick film full of bumps, and layered with convincing performances (although Church the Cat may be the best of these). Still, everything in the film can be found in a horror playbook, there is nothing entirely ground-breaking here. In addition, if King’s novels have taught us anything, it’s that to achieve truly empathetic screams of terror, there has to be a substantial amount of character work. Pet Sematary sadly misses this lesson, delivering entertainment without any lingering sense of thrilled satisfaction.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★