Pet Sematary (2019)


I was pretty excited to see Pet Sematary. The original, though terribly flawed, had some truly disturbing moments and hit me at just the right age to scare me. But let’s face it - it’s not a great film. So when I found out that Pet Sematary was headed for an update, I was ready. And when I saw the first trailer…well, I was EXCITED! There were masked children taking part in ritualistic processions, long steady shots of trees (why is this always so effectively creepy?), and John Lithgow warning that the woods “belong to something else.” But the film is a disappointment, one that seems cobbled together without any heart to tie it together. It’s like watching a film go through the motions of wanting to be scary, but never quite hitting the mark.

Pet Sematary, based on Stephen King’s book, is about a family that moves from Boston to Ludlow, Maine. Louis Creed, an ER doctor, is looking to spend more quality time with his family away from the punishing hustle and bustle of the big city. But as soon as the family arrives, Louis’ wife starts having haunting visions of her sister Zelda, who died of spinal meningitis when they were children (though not entirely the fault of the film since it’s based on King’s book, we should talk about the use of those with disabilities as tropes in horror films, because who else is over it? At best, it’s lazy. We can do better.). There’s also the strange patch of land on the Creed’s new property, littered with handmade grave makers and the (presumed?) bodies of dead pets. And after the family cat dies the Creeds’ neighbor, Jud Crandall, introduces Louis first-hand to the power of the land, with dire consequences for the entire family.

The performances were decent, as was the cinematography. The problem here is really with the script. There are a few twists on the original, but overall Pet Sematary is a predictable, formulaic horror film that’s not at all scary. (Plus there are lines like, “His brain…I can see it.” What nurse in an ER says that?!??) The oppressive heaviness of loss and grief central to King’s book are shoved to the side for extended scenes of a murderous girl with long stringy hair tormenting her family (this is no spoiler if you’ve seen the most recent trailers, which show the film’s unexpected diversion from the original film’s plot and essentially ruins what could’ve been an interesting thing).

Pet Sematary could have been a quietly eerie meditation on how difficult it can be to let go of those you love. This is the true horror of King’s story - that logic has no place in the realm of death. It doesn’t discriminate and takes us all eventually, sometimes at a terrible cost, and sometimes in what is the most unfair of ways. But the alternative, if somehow we were given one, is potentially even worse.

My advice? Stream Lake Mungo instead.