Pet Sematary Review: Great performances, true creepiness, and fresh updates make up for a lack of scares
Remaking cinema classic can be a tricky road to navigate as it has the dual task of impressing old fans by giving them clever homages and moments that harken back to the original and providing some fresh updates in order to not just feel like a nostalgic cash grab. However, directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer have come together to create an incredibly effective update to one of Stephen King’s classic stories, Pet Sematary through pure eeriness and great performances that emit a creepy atmosphere, even if the film isn’t that scary.
The film follows a doctor, Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), as he and his family move from the bustling city of Boston to the dense woods of Ludlow, Maine. Shortly after arriving, Louis and his family are informed by their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) that they own all of the woods that surround their house, including a pet cemetery that Louis’ daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) finds in the woods. However, after receiving visions about the cemetery and having death plague his family, Louis taps into the strange power of the cemetery and truly understands why sometimes dead is better.
One of the best things that this remake brings is the visual atmosphere that really sets an eerie tone. There’s plenty of solid visual cues, like seeing the funeral precession of the children wearing animal masks and every time Louis and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) have about their past and the pull of the cemetery, that evoke this strange and creepy tone that gives the cemetery its own presence. Through Jud’s seemingly obsessive nature, the cemetery also is given a solid mythos with some dialogue between Jud and Louis highlighting its connection to the town as well as some supernatural figures.
Although, I did wish that these aspects were stronger highlights in building up the non-supernatural presence of the cemetery throughout the film. The children could’ve been used more to create a cult like presence for the cemetery and even beg the question if they are a part of it, almost mirroring another King classic, Children of the Corn. Not to mention, we never really get to hear anything about impact of the cemetery from anyone expect Jud so its kind of hard to believe or buy into that the cemetery has this daunting presence.
Honestly, the film could’ve benefited more from different additions to the story and creating a unique atmosphere with other aspects of world-building as the slow-burn approach could’ve been effective if the pay-off was more unique. While Kolsch and Widmeyer do craft some solid suspenseful moments and do build on Louis’ growing fixation of the cemetery, it was missing a sense of shock and surprise. The ending, while I enjoy it and find its creepiness and horror to be fun, lacks that a big impact and reflects the film’s ability to create an eerie atmosphere, but inability to create great scares to going along with it.
Even with my world-building issues and lack of true scares, though, I couldn’t help but to gravitate towards the film’s pull and be sucked into what’s happening. Rachel’s story with her sister is nicely sprinkled throughout adding in some tense moments and giving her character a true sense of purpose in the story while also being one of the ways Pet Sematary’s themes of death rise. I also really dug how Church, the family cat, also makes an impactful presence throughout the film that helps create the illusion of death lurking. The cinematography is also very eye-catching and shadowy which is one of the nice visual updates that gives this classic King story a much-needed fresh coat of paint.
It’s also impressive to see the amount of practical effects and believable performances from everyone involved. The, what seems to be, practical effects on Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed), a spirit of a patient that Louis couldn’t save, are great and I like how the film doesn’t rely too heavily on gore to make scenes creepy and doesn’t try to create shock through gore. The performances from Clarke, Lithgow, and really everyone involved are solid and play into their character’s growing fears. Clarke nicely sells Louis’ slowly cracking mind as pull of the pet cemetery becomes too much, Seimetz showcases Rachel’s guilt and internal fears of death from a childhood tragedy, and Lithgow is a lot of fun as Jud as he brings his father-like personality and desire to be good to the forefront of his performance. Laurence is also a stand-out as she captures Ellie’s innocence excellently and brings an incredibly creepy performance later in the film that’s great to see.
Pet Sematary is not only a solid remake of a classic but is one of the better King adaptations that have graced the screen thus far. Even when it lacks scares or made me wish there were more world-building aspects to the story, I still found myself feeling the film’s pull through great performances and a creepy atmosphere that’s hard not to love.