Pet Sematary is the latest rendition of Stephen King’s cult 1983 classic, and is in the same paranormal paradigm as the previous film adaptation of IT. Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, the movie interpretation follows the journey of young Doctor Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife (Amy Seimetz) and their two young children, who move from Boston to rural Maine.
Their new house borders on the side of a busy open road and a vast subset of land, which the local community use as a place to bury their dead animals. It is not until disaster strikes that Dr Creed is introduced to the place beyond an ominous barricade. Their neighbour, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), reluctantly welcomes the family to the power of the land beyond as a solution to their woes.
The movie does well to represent how we navigate conversations about death for the first time. The family awkwardness was palpable, yet familiar enough to have you wince and giggle at the same time. The comedic timing and dialogue matched perfectly with what many people might experience in their own families. Unfortunately, this is where the relatability ends.
The movie follows a plausible story line, full of moments of teeth grinding tension, but it felt like they were trying to fit as much of the book in as possible. There was a lack of delving into recurring elements, such as the five masked figures that feature in the book more prominently. These figures introduce both the characters and the audience to the sacred area, the Pet Sematary, and they also feature heavily in the trailer, the media releases, and posters. I walked into the cinema expecting to understand the story behind these five featured figures, but to my surprise, they are barely featured in the film, and their relevance to the mystical elements of the Pet Sematary are not revealed.
The film also lacks significant character development. Why was the neighbour so invested in getting involved in their lives? What was his relationship to the land beyond the Pet Sematary? Why did the phantom of the injured boy haunt the family so intensely?
These elements seemed to be put in the film to fit the formula of what a Stephen King story is, but without the conviction of adding dimension to their story. In particular, this is seen with the neighbour Jud Crandall, whose involvement in the story was only revealed when the film was almost over. This gave Pet Sematary a shallow understanding of some of the most integral and haunting images that appear in the book. The inclusion of almost superfluous elements, such as the deep delve into the mother’s experience with the death – leaving her sister haunting her relentlessly – takes valuable minutes away from the main plot.
There appeared to be an attempt to bring the film to the modern era, however the use of modern technology was used sparingly. Those who had iPhones either didn’t answer them, or were unaware of how to use them effectively. The disconnect from the reality of how phones are used as tools today, especially in points of emergency, made it difficult for the audience to relate to the situation. This significantly contrasts with other horror movies of the modern age, like Get Out and Split, which have technology at the forefront of the plot.
Although this movie did not live up to the standard set by IT, I guarantee you it is still a fun watch for those who like rising tension, see angry zombies, and fancy a laugh about how funny kids can be. Despite its poor advertising campaign and misleading trailer, Pet Sematary is a spine tingling film, and an easy watch if you’re looking for something to see on the weekend.
Pet Sematary is set to haunt Perth cinemas on April 4!