“Pet Sematary” from 1983 is one of the scariest novels that Stephen King has ever written and the film from 1989 based on the book and directed by Mary Lambert was pretty scary too, despite the lack of good special effects and an at times slow pacing. The ending scene still sends chills down my spine. Because of this my expectations were high when I first heard about the 101 minutes long remake directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. With modern day special effects, I thought that this new “Pet Sematary” version would have potential of becoming a new horror film classic, especially when I saw the film posters of some really creepy kids wearing animal masks, but let’s face it. It’s no classic. On the contrary, it is outright boring
The film tells King’s old story about Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz) who move to Ludlow, Maine, for Louis to work as a doctor at the university hospital. They are accompanied by their children Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie) who is perhaps two or three years old, eight-year-old Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and the cat Church.
The family is soon confronted with a creepy pet cemetery (spelled “Pet Sematary” on the sign as it is mostly used by children who bury their dead pets), the kind, elderly neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who knows more than he tells, as well as hauntings from the past (Rachel’s sister Zelda played by Alyssa Brooke Levine), and from the present (Louis’ dead patient Victor Pascow played by Obssa Ahmed).
When the cat Church is run over and then buried beyond the pet cemetery in a burial ground inhabited by the demon Wendigo, the cat comes back, but it is now aggressive, mean and very smelly. When shortly after one of the Creed children is run over and dies, Louis buries the body in the burial ground as well and soon the child comes back, quite transformed too.
WARNING! SPOILER ALERT! Luckily, I knew in advance that in the new film, there was a change of antagonist, so to speak, as it is Ellie who dies and not Gage like in the novel and the original film. At first, I found it quite annoying, but then I thought, hey, maybe it’ll work. At least the film makers found it scarier as an older child could wreak more havoc than a toddler, but for me it doesn’t work. Ellie does pretty much the same things that Gage originally did, but I found him scary because he is so young whereas Ellie is so old that her age doesn’t to add to the scare-factor. In other words, she never gets really scary and that’s the problem with the entire film. It’s boring. Sure, there are some scenes with Rachel’s sister Zelda who suffered from spinal meningitis that are quite scary, but the whole thing with the burial ground and people coming back. Yawn! A sullen school girl is just not as scary as a demonic toddler!
I don’t mind changes to a story if it makes a better film, but the changes here are never really used for anything. In the original version, Jud has a wife, but in this version, she has died, and we get to believe that maybe Jud has buried her, and she has come back, but we never really get into that story. And what is the whole deal with the masked kids that were shown on the poster and in the trailer? They are never used for anything and only appear in a short scene almost in the beginning of the film. Please, don’t make promises in films like showing us these kids or hinting at Jud’s story if you don’t mean to use it! If you really want to change the script drastically from the original story, then add something really scary instead of subtracting what is already there.
For me, especially the ending is really, really bad. Sure, I appreciate the “reversed role”-joke, as now the whole family is ganging up on Gage, where it used to be him terrorising the family in the original version, but the way it is filmed, it’s just another non-scary scene. I left the cinema thinking, “Was that it?” and that’s not a good thing for a horror movie.
If I have to say something positive, it is to give credits to the actors. Especially John Lithgow and young Jeté Laurence stood out for me, but not enough to save this film, where the changes from the original story were not for the better, Besides, I missed Stephen King who had a cameo in the original film.
As this new “Pet Sematary” is going to sink into oblivion for me, I can’t give it more than two out of five stars: **