Pet Sematary movie cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence
Pet Sematary movie director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Pet Sematary movie rating: 3.5 stars
Despite the usual tropes of jump scares, strange noises, whispering woods and people who wander off into the dark unknown despite all of the preceding stuff, Pet Sematary unfolds its horror gradually, leisurely and with care.
It spends almost an hour of its short 103-minute length acquainting you with the Creeds and their cat Church (named after Winston Churchill). You may be familiar with them thanks to the Stephen King novel on which this film is based, and the 1989 film which he also adapted for the big screen. However, 30 years later, making some small and welcome changes, and packing in a solid punch at the end, Pet Sematary leaves you with a lingering sense of dread — which is more than can be said for many of its contemporaries.
Horror aficionados Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer are helped by a solid cast, who help establish the Creeds as a family who love each other and, importantly, whom we come to care for. Clarke plays father Louis, an exceptional Seimetz his wife Rachel, Laurence their daughter Ellie who is the main protagonist, and Hugo/Lucas Lavoie their toddler son. They have come to settle in a countryside house in Maine to “slow down” after Louis’s hectic life as a doctor in Boston.
With the 50 acres of woods surrounding it, and a busy highway besides it, the house is a redoubtable choice for a family with young children. However, that is not where things start going wrong. Almost immediately after they have settled in, the Creeds realise that their grounds hold a ‘Pet Sematary’, where the locals bury their pets. The directors try much too hard to establish that not just a mysterious mist but a lot else floats around the area.
As does their neighbour Jud. He is played by Lithgow, certainly not an actor to be encountered alone in the woods. Here, much aged, freckled and cryptic, he hints at a secret even more than his usual brilliant self.
Soon, Ellie’s pet cat Church dies, is “resurrected” as a snarling, violent version of itself, and the story comes to its central question of grief vs rationality, and what would hold out when it comes to the death of a loved one. Does being a man of science give Dr Louis immunity?
Before what you have come to expect happens though, Pet Sematary takes its time getting there. The wait can be exhausting at times, especially since the directors end up repeating tricks like the floating mist, a dried-up stick heap, and a dead student’s ghost. Rachel’s sister who suffered from spinal meningitis and died a horrific death, leaving lasting scars on her, also keeps popping up, till the effect is lost.
However, that may be precisely why the ending, drawn out, bloody and unexpected, works so well. “Sometimes dead is better,” says Jud. You can’t agree more.
Also, someone had to point out what Ellie (Laurence an actor to watch out for) does in the film, even though at eight, she might be a tad too young: that the kids who put up the ‘Pet Sematary’ board marking the burial ground got the spelling wrong.
Stephen King knew what he was doing with that wrong spelling, but 30 years later, the kids have Google.