Pet Sematary: Superior horror remake of Stephen King’s scariest book

Review: A family move in beside a graveyard that brings animals back to life

Pet Sematary: it has cats. Scary cats

Film Title: Pet Sematary

Director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Obssa Ahmed

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 101 min

Thu, Apr 4, 2019, 06:00

   

Not long after Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family relocate from Boston to the small town of Ludlow, Maine, his daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) watches masked children form a funeral procession to the pet cemetery in the woods behind the family home.

“Why don’t animals live as long as people?” asks Ellie. Her father gives a solidly scientific answer about metabolisms. “It might seem scary but it’s not,” he insists, not yet realising that his new home backs into ancient tribal lands where the barrier between life and death is permeable.

The family are soon plagued by horrible visions: At night Louis sees Victor (Obssa Ahmed), a young traffic accident victim, who warns the doctor that “the ground is sour”. Louis’s wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) is haunted by her sister Zelda, who died in gruesome circumstances years before. Even their toddler son Gage starts drawing gory doodles.

And that’s before Louis and his kindly neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) decide that they’d rather not tell Ellie that her beloved cat Church has been killed on the dangerous, Chekovian road nearby.

Stephen King regards Pet Sematary as his scariest book and it’s easy to understand why. The neat high concept – a graveyard that brings animals back as evil shadows of themselves – makes for a prickly, philosophical conundrum for the recently bereaved.

Many horror films rely on the viewer being smarter than the protagonist: they’d know to turn on the darned light switch. Louis’s actions, however rash, are understandable in the context of grief.

Diehard fans of the 1983 book have taken issue with the new twists of this second film adaptation of Pet Sematary. They’re wrong to be precious, not least because the changes make for clever innovations.

Working from a taut screenplay by Jeff Buhler, co-directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch (Starry Eyes, Scream TV Series) reach into the genre trick-or-treat bag to produce such pleasing, twisted delights as animal masks and a dumb waiter. Laurie Rose’s perversely sunny cinematography and Sarah Broshar’s edits make for a superior studio horror, one that’s not overly reliant on jump scares.

At the level of the shot, Pet Sematary often feels like a reworking of Mary Lambert’s much-loved, meme-friendly 1989 adaptation. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

An experienced cast bring psychological depth and fun, and the animatronic cat is never dull, but it’s newcomer Jeté Laurence who walks off with the movie.