At a certain point, I realized that I may actually like horror movies. I never really got into them very much before, truth be told, out of a general distaste for gore and jumpscares. But give me a good psychological horror movie, and I’m all there.
Consequently, I actually took myself to see the new Pet Sematary. Now, I’ve never seen the older movie, but I did read the novel when I was a huge Stephen King fanboy, so here we go with the man’s meditation on grief.
That said…I try to keep these as spoiler-free as possible, but for this one, I will be discussing things from the trailers, and those trailers gave a lot away, so if you haven’t seen the trailers and want to avoid spoilers, don’t go any further than this point.
The Creed family are on their way to their new home in the town of Ludlow, Maine. Dad Louis (Jason Clarke) is a doctor looking for a quieter place to work, and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) is on board with that. Nearly nine year old daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) gets into their new, out-of-the-way home pretty fast, befriending the family’s new neighbor Jud Crandal (John Lithgow), even as she spots a bizarre progression through the woods of a group of children heading off to bury a dead dog in the “pet sematary” deep in the woods. Now, there is a highway out in front of the Creed’s new home, and large trucks go through there rather frequently, and the Creeds also have a toddler son named Gage and a cat named Church. And when Church gets hit by a truck, well, Jud has a way to maybe bring the cat back deep in the woods just beyond the pet sematary if Louis can bring himself to go. But sometimes, well, dead is better.
So, here’s the thing: trailers gave a lot away on this one, and I mean A LOT. The biggest change is that the novel and original movie had young Gage dying in the highway only for his father to bring him back…wrong. This time around, it’s daughter Ellie, and it makes a certain amount of sense from a filmmaker’s perspective. Sure, creepy children are more frequent than creepy toddlers in horror movies, but there are advantages of using an older kid who can, you know, act and remember lines. In fact, Laurence is outright spectacular in her role as Ellie, showing distinctly different personalities before and after her resurrection. Likewise, I can’t really complain about any of the performances in this movie with the possible exception of Jason Clarke, and even then I think it comes down more towards the script than him.
And that is where we have problems. The movie only runs at a little over an hour and a half, and a good half of the run time is exposition. Sure, there are hints towards the original work, notably how much this movie hints towards Gage’s death at the halfway point…and it doesn’t happen. What we have instead leading up to that is a good deal of backstory for Rachel and her general fear of death due to a childhood trauma, and Louis…well, Louis is just Louis. He’s such a bland protagonist that it’s a bit hard to really get into him. Factor in as well that, quite frankly, there was a bit too much laughter in my screening during the third act, and what I found was this Pet Sematary has a lot of the ingredients for a good horror movie, but they don’t add up to a good whole. My own preference for horror movies these days tends to be these movies that seem to lay on the tension early and don’t let up. This is usually a point of mild disagreement between myself and Watson on movies like Hereditary or Us where I tend to be more impressed by the technical prowess but Watson often finds them a little too unrelenting to offer a real scare when stuff gets real. Pet Sematary doesn’t reach that level of technical expertise. It’s shooting for something like the recent IT and not quite getting there outside the trailers. Why should I care about Louis Creed? The script doesn’t give us enough to go on, leaning heavily on Clarke’s performance, and that doesn’t really come to shine until the back half of the movie.
That said, the last scene of the movie is rather effective.
As it is, this movie seems to be dividing audiences and critics. I found it rather “meh” with Laurence’s performance a highlight. I may have to reread the novel at some point in the near future, but for this movie, I’m going with 6.5 out of 10 ignored spirit guides.