Pet Sematary (2019) Review
This is not your parents' Pet Sematary. Sometimes, remade is better.
Release Date: April 5, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
In Pet Sematary, 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. Based on the Stephen King novel “Pet Sematary.”
Directors: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Screenwriters: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler, Stephen King
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian
Cast: Jason Clarke (Louis), Amy Seimetz (Rachel), John Lithgow (Jud), Jeté Laurence (Ellie), Hugo Lavoie (Gage), Lucas Lavoie (Gage), Obssa Ahmed (Victor Pascow), Alyssa Levine (Zelda)
Editor: Sarah Broshar
Cinematographer: Laurie Rose
Production Designer: Todd Cherniawsky
Music Score: Christopher Young
If you’re a fan of the 1989 Pet Sematary and have not seen the trailer for the 2019 Pet Sematary remake, consider yourself very lucky. Don’t watch any teasers, don’t check out the images on IMDB, don’t even look at the poster art if you can help it. Just go see it.
Pet Sematary is about a doctor named Louis Creed (Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke) who, along with wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz from Alien: Covenant and You’re Next), daughter Ellie (The Snowman’s Jeté Laurence), and toddler son Gage (newcomers Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), relocates from the hustle and bustle of Boston to rural Maine. The family’s new house sits on a road that serves as a main trucking line, and partially because of this, there is also a pet cemetery in the woods behind their house where kids have been burying their beloved for decades.
When Ellie’s cat, Church, meets his untimely demise on the road, new neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow from The Homesman) shows Louis a place deeper in the woods and past the “Pet Sematary” that has the mysterious power to bring the dead back to life. Although, those who return from the dead aren’t quite the same. And sometimes, dead is better.
The basic story structure of Pet Sematary is the same as the original, but there are a handful of massive plot differences that, while they don’t alter the main path too much, are a fun shock to discover and should not be spoiled (hence the above warning about the trailer). Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the duo behind the terrific Starry Eyes) have enormous respect for the both the original movie and the Stephen King source novel, yet they, along with screenwriters Matt Greenberg (Halloween H20, 1408) and Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train, The Prodigy), manage to inject new life into the familiar story with these changes. And they make a terrifying film in the process.
Most of the same ingredients are there. Of course, the pet cemetery and the massive bramble behind it are there. The dangerous highway and the constant sense of paranoia and tension that it brings are still there, too. Even Victor Pascow and Zelda are in the movie, too, although they serve slightly different story functions than they do in the original. And Kölsch and Widmyer throw in enough playful winks and nods, tributes and references, even a few fakeouts, to make fans of the predecessor happy.
But this is not your parents’ Pet Sematary. The Pet Sematary remake is more serious thanks to the massively upgraded acting by Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz; it really captures the sense of loss and grief that is at the center of the story. Kölsch and Widmyer have a tremendous visual style that is simultaneously raw and polished, and that, coupled with Lithgow’s restrained performance as Jud (let’s be real, Fred Gwynne was a cartoon in the original), makes for a more somber, less campy experience. Think of how the 2013 Evil Dead compared with 1981’s The Evil Dead and you’re on the right track.
Stephen King has been sleeping on a big pile of money for years now, and much of it is being made from pre-existing properties that are just now getting rediscovered or remade (see It, Carrie, The Dark Tower, Gerald’s Game). And he usually comes out in support of the projects, using exclamations like “absolutely terrifying!” and “the scariest movie since The Exorcist” to describe them. But in this case, the movie lives up to the hype. It may not be scarier than The Exorcist, but Pet Sematary (2019) is one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made.
It’s worth noting that there are no fewer than four different cats who play Church, and each one should be awarded that animal acting Oscar that should also have gone to Steven Seagull from The Shallows, Black Phillip from The Witch, and Marvin the dog from Paterson. The cat acting is terrific. And the performers were all rescues, and all were found homes after shooting wrapped. So things worked out better for the actors then they did for their character.
Oh, and for those wondering, yes, that killer theme song made famous by The Ramones does play over the closing credits, but just as one might expect, it’s a cover version (one that sounds like it might be Joan Jett, but that has neither been confirmed nor denied – ED Note – it’s been discovered that it is Los Angeles punk band Starcrawler). A modernization of the song for a modernization of the movie.
The lion’s share of the scares in Pet Sematary (2019) come from the creepy imagery that co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer present in just about every scene. For example, right as the Creeds arrive at their new home they (and the viewers) are treated to a funeral procession for a dog, complete with a parade of children wearing eerie animal masks tromping their way to the pet cemetery.
The graveyard itself is equally freaky, draped in a constant fog that allows the audience to almost feel how cold it is. And then there are the jump scares, the perfectly paced buildups that crescendo into a big BOO! that the viewer knows is coming but can’t do anything about except jump into their neighbor’s seat. Finally, there’s the overwhelming atmosphere of dread and despair that accompanies the second half of the movie, which isn’t actually scary, but is a tangibly unnerving element of the movie. Pet Sematary is very layered in the fear that it inspires, so if it can’t scare you one way, it’ll get you another.