It’s interesting to see the resurgence of Stephen King in Hollywood. America’s most successful novelist has spent decades crafting creepy nail-biters and wildly entertaining stories for audiences, which have been adapted into nearly 100 movies and television shows. Some are cinematic classics, like Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Frank Darabont’s “Shawshank Redemption” or Rob Reiner’s claustrophobic masterpiece, “Misery.” Few authors’ works have been so successful. Of all King’s stories, “Pet Sematary” might be his most clever.
The concept is so brilliant; it has all the benchmarks of a great story. A family moves to a rural community to try and find a quieter life. They live on a spooky property which also houses the final resting place for community pets. A crusty, old man spins yarns about ghostly voices and cursed patches of earth, where things buried can make their way back from the dead.
Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) has brought his family to a beautiful farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, except for the fact it’s located right next to the world’s busiest trucking road. With two small children and no fences, what could possibly go wrong? Before we get to the inevitable foreshadowed tragedy, we get to know a little about the characters and the property they have purchased. Creed’s wife is weirded out by a procession of small children wearing creepy animal masks following a pet funeral procession. Basically, she ignores the fact it screams, “Get the hell out of town, now!”
Need I ask? What could possibly go wrong?
A lonely old curmudgeon named Jud (John Lithgow) meets Louis’s daughter, Ellie, and soon becomes a family friend. He tells Louis of the legends of an ancient spirit, called the “Wendigo.” It haunts the property and magically allows pets to come back from the dead. After Ellie’s cat is killed, Jud takes Louis to the burial plot and walks him through the steps to create a zombie cat. Of course, the cat comes back but not as a loving pet … as a demon cat that freaks the hell out and attacks everyone, including Ellie’s younger brother. Louis realizes he made a mistake and decides the cat needs to be euthanized. He loses his nerve and takes the cat to the outskirts of town.
Again … what could possibly go wrong?
Later at a birthday party, everyone decides to play a game of Hide and Seek in the unfenced yard, next to the extremely dangerous road. A semi-truck shows up and … well, these characters are clearly not bright enough to see things coming.
What will Louis do? Will he accept the fact he made some terrible mistakes and get the rest of his family far away from the hellish landscape of rural Maine? Of course not. If he exhibited that much common sense, there wouldn’t be a movie.
I’m probably being a little unfair to the story and most recent adaptation of King’s horror classic. “Pet Sematary” is so well-known and ingrained into pop culture, it almost feels like a parody of itself. The basic concept of King’s story has been reimagined so many times “Pet Sematary” is almost dated. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer try to make the story their own with a few changes from the original. Ultimately, they give it a nice degree of separation from the 1989 adaptation. There are some good scares and solid performances, and it’s not a movie that sands down the rough edges. It is brutal, violent and downright frightening, but a few scenes play out as unintentionally hilarious.
It really isn’t a bad movie by any stretch: It’s slow, methodical and take its time with presenting this horrific little tale. There are successful attempts made at ratcheting up the tension until it boils over in the final act. 2019’s “Pet Sematary” has a spectacularly good ending. Overall, the new version isn’t too novel. Viewers who know nothing about the original story or 1989 film might really enjoy it. As someone taking their third trip into this world (fourth when considering the awful sequel “Pet Sematary 2”), I think this is a perfectly adequate retelling.