Stephen King said that Pet Sematary is the only novel that genuinely scared him. The story follows a doctor and his family, who discovers a mysterious burial ground in the woods near their new home just outside of a small rural town. It was inspired by the death of his daughter’s cat, Smuckey, who was killed on a highway outside their home and was initially shelved by the master of horror until his wife convinced him to publish. The classic horror was originally adapted to film in 1989 by Madonna and Ramones music video director, Mary Lambert, after originally having George A. Romero attached.
Now 30 years later, we have a new adaptation from the writer-director duo, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, who didn’t simply want to make a revamped version of the original Pet Sematary. The cast features Jason Clarke, who has been steadily making a name for himself with solid turns in Zero Dark Thirty, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, First Man and now Pet Sematary. Playing opposite fellow Planet of the Apes star, John Lithgow, and Amy Seimetz of Stranger Things fame, Pet Sematary has some considerable talent with solid performances all-round.
The idea of playing God is something that we’re all confronted with at some point in our lives. Wanting to reverse time, bring loved ones back or change our destiny are things that we feel could undo tragedy and influence our lives for the better. Being a doctor is probably one of the closest things to it, literally putting the outcome of people’s lives in their hands, which is probably why some of them think they’re God. This eerie and unsettling concept is the central theme in Pet Sematary, which is cleverly contrasted with Dr Louis Creed’s chosen profession and his attempt to escape the ER room of a busy city hospital.
“I think we’re alone now…”
Good horror filmmakers realise that audiences need to be immersed in believable drama before turning the screws. While some horrors take their time to steadily ramp up the chill factor, Pet Sematary takes a more balanced approach, intermittently scaring the audience with effective jump cuts and unexpected detours into the metaphysical. There are some turning points that could have been handled more elegantly, especially going into the third act, yet it remains an entertaining, haunting and surprisingly adept horror thriller.
The visuals glide across the screen thanks to an effective combination of good pacing, carefully calibrated shots and sensitive editing. The film-makers have a great eye, leveraging the creepy atmosphere and spooky sound design to create tension and moments that teeter between the real and unreal. Their understanding of the horror fantasy realm also enables them to build suspense to unexpected scares that literally make you jump in your seat. Always engaging, Pet Sematary is a true movie house horror designed to spill popcorn, elicit gasps and keep you invested until the bitter end.
Unfortunately, when it comes to animals… especially household pets, it’s tricky to strike the right tone. We have ultimate control of them, they’re regarded as possessions according to law, which makes them known, loved and more prone to objectified humour. The intended effect may be easier to achieve for people from cultures where it’s believed cats are conduits of demons, but trying to turn a horror cliche like a cat into something to fear is exceptionally difficult. While “Church” is as real as it gets, it’ll help if you’re able to withstand the welcome yet odd unintentional comic blip in the otherwise suspenseful Pet Sematary.
Stephen King’s chilling mystery horror thriller continues a strong year for the genre, which has been riddled with a number of successful originals and remakes. The horror is compelled by self-belief and a strong setup, opening curious possibilities around a sequel. Unfortunately, the mystery and scare factor dulls as cliches kick in. It’s most unfortunate when you consider it’s probably one of the horrors that originally mustered, influenced and reinforced the tropes it’s being measured against.
The bottom line: Creepy