The king of horror is back again, and 2019 has the potential to be a huge year for Stephen King. After the massive success of the “It” revival in 2017, King has once again become a hot topic in Hollywood with a wave of new titles on the horizon – the first of which is “Pet Sematary.”
Praised as one of King’s most terrifying novels of all time, early reviews of the remake seemed to suggest that the new “Pet Sematary” followed suit, as Entertainment Weekly hailed it as “the scariest (and best) Stephen King movie in years.”
But after taking a trip deep into the Ludlow woods, far past the Pet Sematary, I’m still not sure if I over-prepared myself for screams and terror, or if the film just wasn’t that scary.
“Pet Sematary” is a middle-of-the-road horror adaptation with a handful of solid scares and unnerving performances, that ultimately struggles to overcome issues with pacing and an abundance of exposition.
After moving his family from Boston to the countryside in Ludlow, Maine, Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) is looking forward to slowing down and spending more time with his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and his children, Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). The Creed family and their cat, Church, get to know their new home and its 50 acres of forest, and soon learn that their property is home to the neighborhood “pet sematary.” As their friendly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) explains, it’s become somewhat of a ritual for children to bury their deceased pets in the woods behind the Creed family’s house.
As if that’s not creepy enough, both Louis and Rachel are constantly on edge in their new home, and each suffers from a variety of haunting visions and hallucinations warning them of looming danger. At this point, it’s clearly time to get out of this house and move on with your life, but in traditional horror movie fashion, beyond all common sense, the family stays.
Jud quickly befriends the family, especially young Ellie, who he sees as the granddaughter he never had, and when he discovers that Church has been struck and killed by a car, he accompanies Louis to secretly bury the cat in the pet sematary. But due to his desire to never see Ellie upset, he gives Louis a mysterious proposition. Travel beyond the pet sematary to a hallowed area of the forest and bury the cat there – he’ll thank him later. Without any understanding of what he’s doing, Louis follows Jud deep into the woods and does what he says.
The following day, Louis and Rachel try to break the news to Ellie about her deceased pet, only for her to point out that Church was sleeping in her closet last night – alive, yet terrifyingly unwell. What exactly did Louis do last night in the forest?
Here comes the typical horror movie storyline, easily summed up into five sentences:
- Family moves to new house.
- Creepy stuff goes down.
- One family member wants to leave, the other doesn’t.
- They stay.
- They die.
Unfortunately, “Pet Sematary” is no different. For a story celebrated as one of King’s best and most terrifying, I honestly expected a far more unique and disturbing plot.
After Church’s revival, Ellie is run over and killed by a truck, only for Louis to desperately dig up her body and rebury it in the forest in hopes of getting his little girl back. While there certainly were some scary elements, especially for parents forced to imagine the pain of losing their own children, the narrative as a whole was fairly basic.
Ellie’s death is revealed in the trailer and shouldn’t come as a surprise, yet the real shock lies in the fact that it doesn’t occur until the film is nearly in its final act. After spending an hour and some change introducing the characters and establishing the rules of the pet sematary, the conflict that should have fueled the majority of the film finally takes place.
What’s left is a rushed final act overstuffed with action that just doesn’t add up. After treating the first two-thirds of the film as a slow burn to develop everything, it feels as if there should be at least another hour after Ellie’s resurrection – not just 30 minutes. As a result, it’s difficult to say that the hurried payoff justifies the lengthy exposition – especially considering that Jeté Laurence truly shines once back from the dead as the extremely unsettling monster Ellie.
As Jud says early in the film, “Sometimes dead is better,” an ironic warning for a film cautioning against bringing the dead back to life, that itself was brought back to the screen 30 years later. In this case, it would have been wise to heed Jud’s warning.
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.