DescriptionDr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbour Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences.
Initial release: April 4, 2019 (Indonesia, Australia)
Directors: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Production company: Di Bonaventura Pictures
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian
Screenplay: Jeff Buhler, David Kajganich, Matt Greenberg
In Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” the big-city Creed family moves to rural Maine, inadvertently buying a plot of land that includes an ancient Indian burial ground. If you inter a beloved feline correctly in the creepy pet cemetery behind their house, it’s liable to come back … different. Same goes for cadavers of the non-cat variety — including humans hit by passing traffic. So goes the “Be careful what you wish for” premise of what many consider to be the horror writer’s scariest novel.
Of the 70-odd theatrical adaptations of the King’s oeuvre to date, maybe a dozen actually deliver. Amid that hit-and-miss filmography, the 1989 reanimated-animals chiller ranks among the most effective big-screen translations of the prolific author’s work. That earlier nightmare-inducing version of “Pet Sematary” isn’t so much remade as resurrected in co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 30-years-later take, a mostly faithful cover version of that earlier film — with a few key twists, none of which will be revealed here.
Sticking to the familiar, the movie opens with doctor Louis (Jason Clarke) and stay-at-home mom Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) driving to their new place, with daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), son Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), and a purring kitty in the backseat. Ellie seems excited to be living in the country, wasting no time before exploring her big backyard — which includes acres upon acres of dense forest, and what appears to be a funeral procession of kids in eerie animal masks, who lead her to the graveyard where many an animal “kilt on the highway” has been laid to rest.
The movie is disconcertingly efficient in laying out the essentials of its plot — four minutes in, passing gas trucks are hurtling down the deadly street in front of the Creeds’ new home, and three minutes later, Ellie has set foot in the “pet sematary” — but sacrifices the kind of eccentric personal details King uses to connect (or repulse) us with the characters he’s created, along with the more introspective look at grief and loss that made the novel’s ludicrous story so effective. The script, from “The Midnight Meat Train” writer Jeff Buhler, is practically all plot, all the time, which is plenty efficient for those simply looking to be scared but a little anemic when it comes to making audiences care about these people — all of whose deaths are intended to be seen as not only shocking but tragic.
The exception is next-door neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), whose role was flat on paper but comes to life in the actor’s hands. Ellie’s first view of the old man startles her, since Jud looms tall and looks half-feral, with his sun-spotted face and mangy yellow streaks in his otherwise white beard. But there’s a kindness to Lithgow (which Brian De Palma subverted in “Blow Out” and “Raising Cain”) that expresses itself between the movie’s rudimentary lines of dialogue — a crinkle at the corner of his eyes, and a seemingly sincere concern for the young girl’s well-being — and before we know it, Jud has become both Ellie’s friend and our favorite character.