Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer
Screenwriters: Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler, based on the novel by Stephen King.
Runtime: 101 mins.
Australian release date: 4 April 2019
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 25 March 2019.
‘Sometimes, dead is better…’
The original version of Pet Sematary was directed by Mary Lambert and released in 1989 (followed by its sequel Pet Sematary II in 1992). It was not only based on Stephen King’s 1983 novel but it also featured a screenplay by the best-selling author himself. In this reprise version, the script evolved from a collaboration between Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler (plus an uncredited David Kajganich) and they’ve made a few changes that refresh this creepy tale about a family whose ‘tree change’ in rural Maine turns out not to be the pastoral idyll they were hoping for.
Dr. Louis Creed (Aussie actor Jason Clarke), burnt out from the pressure of working in emergency at a Boston hospital, decides to relocate to the country to allow him to spend more time with his family. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children, Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), and Ellie’s beloved cat ‘Church’ (short for Churchill), are initially enchanted by their new home and acreage and spend time exploring their new surroundings. Naturally, they meet their closest neighbour, Jud (John Lithgow), an elderly man who’s lived alone since the death of his wife Norma (Suzi Stingl), and they become good friends. It’s not long before tragedy strikes, however, and ‘Church’ is found dead by the roadside; Jud, knowing how important the cat is to Ellie, advises Louis to bury it in the pet cemetery located in the woods behind their new home. The old man explains that the place, marked by a misspelled sign reading ‘Pet Sematary’, is believed to be a special power-place that was acknowledged by the First Nations tribes of the North-West. Sure enough, the following day ‘Church’ comes back home, but it’s not the same friendly feline as before. Thus, a chain of events is set in motion that leads to another tragic death, and this one throws the united family into utter chaos.
In true Stephen King style, the action soon turns to horror and unexplained forces take over. This is, after all, what the writer does best and this adaptation works on the same level as its predecessor - with a few changes that don’t stray too far from the original. Clarke gives a thoroughly convincing performance as the distraught father trying to keep it all together under extremely harrowing, increasingly grisly circumstances; he’s the best thing in Pet Sematary. It’s great to see the home-grown actor getting major leading roles in Hollywood these days and he gets better each time. He was terrific as Teddy Kennedy in the under-appreciated Chappaquiddick and he’ll be seen again very soon in The Aftermath, opposite Keira Knightley. John Lithgow is solidly enigmatic as the conflicted neighbour who keeps you guessing as to his role in the proceedings and Jeté Laurence really gets into some pretty dark places for one so young - she’s frighteningly good (ahem). Even ‘Church’ delivers a sound performance (if you’re interested, check out the trivia section of the film on IMDb and read the whole story of the cat extras - fascinating stuff)!
Just in time for the Easter break, this version of Pet Sematary is a good date night film, if only to guarantee the holding of hands during the scary bits. It begs the question, though: why remake this film now? There have been some excellent original horror movies in the last few years. Is this one merely trying to cash in on the success of Get Out, A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Us, et al? Or could the fact that this tale keeps resurfacing be proof that King’s original idea, although far-fetched, is terrifying precisely because the thought of having to live with the loss of someone you love is, always, horrifying?