Somehow I keep ending up at horror movies despite the fact I hate horror movies. This time, the creature feature — literally — was “Pet Sematary.”
It’s a remake of the 1989 film, but both movies are based on the 1983 book by Stephen King. I saw the ’89 film years ago, but I can’t say I remember a whole lot. In fact, I had to seek out Wikipedia for the plot to figure how the small ways the story had changed. For better or for worse, the 2019 adaptation makes the story its own.
Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family move from Boston to the sleepy town of Ludlow, Maine. He and his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), need a change of pace. In fact, they keep saying over and over, “You know why we moved here,” but I’m not sure they actually ever give a real reason. They’re a picture-perfect family: two parents, a little girl named Ellie (Jete Laurence), a toddler named Gage (Lucas Lavoie) and a cat named Church. They’ve moved to a large farmhouse, and the whole thing is just idyllic.
The only problem is they live next to a crazy busy road, and there’s a pet cemetery in the woods behind their house. Jud (John Lithgow), the Creeds’ new neighbor, is full of lore and proves the perfect tour guide. When Church meets an untimely end, Jud helps Louis bury the cat in a special place. As you’re probably aware, Church comes back, but he’s not really “OK.”
(Cat lovers: Church doesn’t really look OK either, so you know it had to be fun trying to style a cat every day on set.)
Tragedy strikes the Creed family a second time, and one of their children is killed. A lot of the film has been pretty similar up until this point, at least loosely, but it’s at this point things take a severe turn.
I think a lot of the film has been spoiled by trailers and entertainment pubs, but if you’ve blissfully managed to avoid any and all details of the film, your streak is about to end unless you stop reading now.
The 2019 adaptation decides to stake its claim on the “Pet Sematary” story by making a pretty major change to the story. In the original, Gage is the child flattened by a truck. The remake chooses to let Ellie be the one killed instead. This decision opens a lot of doors for the character actually. In the book, Gage is a foul-mouthed murdering demon. In the 1989 film, he uses phrases like “No fair!” a lot, but he can’t have full-on conversations.
Welcome to 2019 where your dead daughter, who now sports a lazy eye and staples in her head, can be all kinds of creepy and weird. At the same time, creepy children should be scary. Ellie doesn’t really scare me or anyone else. She’s still a little murdering machine, but she seems a bit like a rabid chipmunk in need of a throat lozenge than a terrifying creature of hell.
Don’t get me wrong. I hate horror movies and being scared, so the fact the film isn’t scary isn’t really a bad thing. Unless you’re a horror movie fan, and then it defeats the whole purpose. The film had thematic elements that up the creep factor. Scary sounds in the walls of the house. Louis sees dead people. Animal masks are a physical representation of the cemetery. So yeah, there are elements that are creepy, but aside from a couple of jump scares, the film’s pretty tame.
As a horror movie, the film is pretty lacking. As a movie, period, the film is still pretty lacking. Clarke, Lithgow and Laurence all feel very sincere, but they don’t wow me. Clarke seems to play the same character every time I see him. Lithgow seems wasted. Laurence’s main job is to look sullen and talk hoarsely. Seimetz as the tortured Rachel seems to be the only one who gives a little something extra for the role. She’s kinda wasted, too.
And, that’s “Pet Sematary” in a nutshell. Almost everything is a waste.
Changes and all.