Author Stephen King’s book Pet Sematary was adapted for the screen and released in 1989. Flash forward to 2019, and the chilling story of life, death and pets hits screens again, this time directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. But was Pet Sematary 2019 a fresh, thrilling horror? Or was it like the undead characters in the story, empty and only a shell of the original novel?
Dr. Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, their two children, Gage and Ellie, and their cat move to a heavily wooded area in Maine to escape the fast life of the city. Ellie, who is almost nine years old, discovers a creepy area in the woods on their property called the Pet Sematary after following a procession of strange children wearing animal masks there. It is where many townsfolk have been burying their pets. The land behind it is a paranormal place where the dead can be brought back to life.
The family faces tragedy when Ellie is hit by a transport truck and dies but Dr. Creed has her resurrected at the place beyond the Pet Sematary. However, Ellie does not come back the same as she was and as they say in the movie, sometimes dead is better.
Similarly, sometimes letting a movie die is better than reviving it.
Pet Sematary 1989 received poor reviews. It scored a 38 on Metacritic, a 50 on Rotten Tomatoes according to the Tomatometer, and a 59 according to the audience score. Perhaps Hollywood should have left poor enough alone because Pet Sematary 2019 wasn’t much better, scoring a 57 on Metacritic, 58 on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer and a lowly 39 based on the audience rating.
In this rendition of Pet Sematary it takes forever for the actual horror scenes to take place. I understand that there are important things that needed setting up in order for the story to have all of the background information it needed so that it would all make sense later, but that would involve making connections to said background information and references later on, which didn’t happen.
The context they provided and details that took up time in the first half of the movie were not revisited. One of the first unsettling moments in the movie is when Ellie and Rachel stumble upon a procession of children wearing masks and pushing a dead animal in a wheelbarrow through the woods. Ellie, later on, runs after the children and finds the Pet Sematary. We never see the creepy children in masks again. Ellie has a mask once she’s reanimated, but it doesn’t explain if those children were reanimated too or if they’re just town children. That, in my opinion, was a huge missed opportunity.
Another pointless detail was their friendly neighbour, Jud Crandall, talking about the legend of the wendigo, a mythical creature that supposedly lives in those woods and eats people. At the end of his story, he basically says he doesn’t know if it’s true or just an old wives’ tale, which made me think it was going to show up later on in the movie. While Dr. Creed and Crandall were in the place of power the first time burying the family cat, they heard a terrifying sound that Crandall said was just a loon. Later, when the wendigo was mentioned, I thought, “Ohh, that was the wendigo,” and assumed we’d see it being scary later. We didn’t.
Instead of relying on the creepy children wearing masks and terrifying mythical creatures to generate scares, Pet Sematary 2019 relies on cheap jump scares and just the concept of death. This movie was incredibly disappointing since the trailer looked terrifying. However, I didn’t feel scared at all, just judgmental about choices the characters made and the writing.
I wasn’t timing it, but I would guess it took at least half or more of the movie to get to the part where Ellie comes back from the dead and starts terrorizing her family, which was supposed to be the whole guts of the film. It wasn’t even worth the wait. There was no build up to Ellie’s transition from confused undead girl when she first reawakened to violent menace. She went to sleep cuddling her father the night that he reanimated her and the next morning, trashed their house and then murdered their neighbour.
There were no slow signs that she might be evil like I expected. I knew what the movie was about going into it and assumed that they would build suspense by having Ellie’s parents initially feel unconditionally joyous that their daughter was back but then slowly realize something wasn’t quite right with her. But the directors did not build any suspense, so once things actually started getting creepy with Ellie, I wasn’t scared, just disappointed and caught off guard by the sudden change of tempo. I’m sure that fans of King novels are disappointed too, seeing as he is touted as a master of horror stories, but this was hardly horror. It had a lot of nonsense and things that didn’t make sense, like Rachel and Ellie calmly standing within a few yards of the creepy children funeral procession and just staying and watching while they walk by.
The acting was good but it didn’t save the movie.
The best thing about the film was the song at the end, Pet Sematary by Starcrawler. When it comes to remakes, sometimes dead is better.