As I strolled into the theater for the new Pet Sematary reboot, the narrowed, yellow eyes of Church, the family cat from Stephen King’s famous 1983 novel, glared down at me from the movie poster displayed on the screen. Along with most of the audience, the couple sitting next to me debated the best moments from the 1989 film adaptation. A woman wearing cat ears combed the aisles, promoting the newest edition of Feline Magazine. As the lights dimmed, Church vanished, the cat lady took her seat, the couple dug their hands in popcorn, and the audience fell into an excited silence. The anticipation was present, but unfulfilled.
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer stay true to the general premise of King’s book, while also making their own changes to the story of Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family as they move to a small town in Maine. At the new house, they discover their friendly, old neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who cautions them against entering the woods beyond the spooky backyard pet cemetery—the book and movie get their shared name from the misspelling on a sign marking the area “Pet Sematary.”
After Church is run over by one of the many monstrous semi-trailer trucks that storm down the road in front of the family’s home, Jud feels sympathy for Louis, who prepares to break the bad news to his younger daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence). Disobeying his own warning, Jud takes Louis to the dangerous woods to bury Church in a second cemetery, an ancient Indian burial ground. From there, the film spirals downward into a cliché of horror tropes and jump scares, as the cemetery’s supernatural evil terrorizes the Creeds.
Unfortunately, the events described above occupy the entire first half of the movie. Kolsch and Widmyer take their time setting up the heart of the story, introducing characters and their backstories, and overemphasizing the rules of the cemetery through expositional dialogue.
Our main hero throughout the flick is Louis Creed, but he is not much of a protagonist. On the surface, he’s a loving father who’ll do anything to save his children, but we never get to dig much deeper. Instead, a hefty chunk of the runtime focuses on his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and her traumatizing childhood spent caring for her sister’s disturbing spinal meningitis. We even learn about Jud’s dead wife. Although these two contribute to the plot, neither character plays the leading role. Perhaps if we knew more about Louis and his past, we could better sympathize with him throughout the story.
Filled with lots of blood and important messages regarding death, Pet Sematary sells itself as a horror movie in its trailers and advertisements. Despite this, laughter more often filled the theater than did screaming. The movie presents the strange occurrences that haunt the Creed family as ludicrous rather than horrifying. For example, after Louis wakes from a dream where he walks barefoot through the woods and is warned of the cemetery by his dead patient, he swipes off his covers to reveal his muddy feet. What should have been a chilling display of the cemetery’s paranormal power was overshadowed by Louis’s over-the-top astonishment and the audience’s burst into laughter.
Despite its comical tendencies, Pet Sematary shows moments of genuine terror: When Dr. Creed bandages up the drastic wounds of a college student hit by a car, blood squirts everywhere and the boy’s pulsing brain pokes out the side of his torn open head before he dies. Ghastly and grim, the gore sets the perfect mood for when the dead student shoots up from his bed and warns Louis about the cemetery.
Pet Sematary doesn’t bring anything new to movie theaters already oversaturated with reboots and adaptations of best-selling novels. It takes a while for the main plotline to get going, and, in the meantime, we’re hit over the head with exposition about the cemetery’s guidelines as if it were a tutorial video. The film, at times, frightens the audience, but feels more like a bloody B-movie than a high-budget interpretation of a beloved book from arguably one of the most highly regarded modern-day authors. Only marginally better than the not-so-great 1989 film adaptation, 2019’s remake would be best served buried in a regular cemetery—where it can’t resurrect and cause that cat lady any more pain.
Featured Image by Paramount Pictures