Stephen King has a quick answer to which novel of his he finds the most frightening: Pet Sematary. Personally, I tend to agree. But this is film reviewing not book reviewing. This is a redo of the amazing/terrible 1989 version which is a little dated now. This remake/remix doesn’t quite capture the terror and authenticity of the King novel, though it is an enjoyable horror thriller on its own.
Not unlike 2017’s It, the time feels right for a new adaptation. Co-director’s Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, the team behind indie horror Starry Eyes, put their own twist on the story. Slightly changing characters and plot, for the better and worse.
The big winner is the character of Rachel, played by Amy Seimetz, who has a knack of choosing engrossing and engaging roles. Her back story is extrapolated with her sister’s unfortunate condition to create a sub plot with some of the best jump scares of the film. Another winner is Church the cat who steals the show and breaks moments of high tension, through humour and scare alike.
The loser in the alteration is the southern neighbour Jud. Fred Gwynne made that role his own thirty years ago and delivered, with perfection, the four scariest words arranged into a sentence: ‘sometimes… dead is better’. If anyone could match that performance it would be John Lithgow. Unfortunately, Jud’s character becomes collateral damage for the screenplay. His character is robbed of a lot of his heart and instead serves as a mouthpiece to advance the narrative.
Initially the plot follows the original story. Louis Creed, played by Aussie Jason Clarke, moves his family from the big city to the town of Ludlow Maine to teach medicine. His world begins to unravel with the death of his daughter’s beloved cat Church. Jud helps Louis bury the cat, taking him past the pet cemetery, over the deadfall and a few miles through the woods to the real cemetery feared and revered by the local Indian tribe. This is the highlight of the film. Things appear before Louis that shouldn’t, words whisper from the trees that he would be better ignored. Today’s CGI and set production do justice to that nightmarish hidden pocket of necromancy and native mythological beasts.
Without spoiling anything, the story deviates at this point from the original. The ending is a little less imaginative than the original and more ‘obvious’. Though the film certainly is not terrible. The whole ride is well worth it for the general atmosphere of growing terror that hangs over first Louis, then the family. Accompanying the creepy mood is of course jump scares a-plenty. King’s stories always supply a bone tingling undercurrent of the suspense. The cinematic jump scares are just the cherries on top. For those unfamiliar with either source material this will be a surprisingly enjoyable ride. For others it’s a bitter sweet twist. Enjoyable but not quite capturing the terrifying relatability of Louis’ descent to madness.
Pet Sematary is in Australian cinemas from Paramount Pictures.