Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie & Lucas Lavoie, John Lithgow, and Leo, Tonic, Jager, and JD (Church the Cat)
Directed by: Kevon Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Screenplay by: Matt Greenberg
Based on Pet Sematary by Stephen King
“Sometimes… dead is better.”
[MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
I have such a weak spot for Stephen King. I think we’re all a sucker for his stuff by now. He’s the best at what he does, and he knows it. For me, I will watch and devour any movie that’s made from his work. Pet Sematary (1989) is one of the best books after Carrie (1976). Mary Lambert did an incredible job of displaying grief in a way that was both heartbreaking and supernaturally homicidal. While the first movie focuses more on grief in the rawest of ways, the new Pet Sematary gives grief its time of day, but not on the same level. This film amps up the subject of death. Our ideals of death, our practices of death, and our unrealistic expectations of what death means.
Pet Sematary tells the story of the Creed family, who move from Boston to live a more quiet life in Ludlow. Things go pretty well for the family until the tragic death of their cat, Church. The death has the family matriarch Louis Creed (Jason Clark) make a heartbreaking decision to bury the cat. However, Jud (John Lithgow) tells him there’s another way. He takes him to bury the cat in the Pet Sematary. After a night, Church comes back, but he’s not quite the same. When another tragedy strikes the family, Louis makes the worst decision of his life and uses the Pet Sematary to push death back as much as possible.
First thing’s first, please don’t expect this to be like the original movie or the book. From what I remember of both, they have a lot of differences, but also similar in a lot of great ways. However, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer don’t take the Mary Lambert approach to directing this film. They shift the limelight away from grief toward tackling death head-on in many different forms, while grief still looms like a dark friend.
I know you’re probably scratching your head by what I mean by that. The thing I LOVED about Lambert’s film was that grief made its presence known. Like the book, it leaves you raw and heartbroken for the entire family. Having a women helm the first Pet Sematary, it let Lambert tackle what grief is like for an entire family after the tragedy of a son and let it hit harder than ever. For this new rendition of Pet Sematary, the directors address the subject of death that breathes interesting conversations about death.
The different kind of ways in which death is being death is so important to this film. Think about it. You have Rachel having to deal with her sister’s death. The practice of the kids burying their pets in the sematary and wanting to reverse death and have more time. This film deals with those three levels of death (ideals of death, practices of death, and unrealistic expectations of what death means) head on. It doesn’t sugarcoat it, which is great, but it also does a lot for the plot that the previous movie didn’t do. It gives a different perspective. I believe that’s one thing that makes this movie so accomplished and ends up separating it from the previous film. It latches onto death instead of grief but still keeps grief very much as a big part of the story as well.
Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer do a tremendous job at helming this new film. Honestly, this is the BEST case scenario that could have happened with this remake. It doesn’t feel like a cash grab, which most remakes feel like now. The directors (and Matt Greenberg, who writes the screenplay) helm it to something which you can tell they have a lot of passion for. They put that passion to good use. It feels like they wanted so badly to expand some of King’s ideas on paper and develop Lambert’s ideas. Even with the changes that the directors and writer unleash upon a new and old King audience, they craft something that they can call their own.
Here’s something that I did not expect within this entire film: the whole cast was quite good! Jason Clarke does a spectacular job as Louis Creed, the doctor who prevents death from happening. Clarke takes this role and makes it his own. It’s hard to follow up to Dale Midkiff’s play on the classic character. Clarke does an excellent job with playing a father who wants to make things right.
Another actor who did the damn thing in her role was Amy Seimetz as Rachel Creed. She played this strange yet fragile woman whose ideas of death were so opposite of her husband, and that’s what made her fantastic. Seimetz made me hate her at some points but also made me understand where the character was coming from. She made me root for her when she was trying so hard to protect her son Gage at the end.
Speaking of which, Jeté Laurence can command the camera like no one’s business. She’s INSANELY good in this movie, which is probably why they made that switch (aka Ellie is killed instead of Gage) happen. She does an incredible job making you like Ellie, for the good and the bad, and wanting no harm to come to her. When she dies, it’s not only a shock but a blow to the audience as well.
The person who ultimately sold this movie for me was John Lithgow as Jud Crandall. He’s … incredible. John Lithgow doesn’t get enough credit for being a serious actor. In this role (and many others), he absolutely nails the character and makes you love him along the way. Even though he was the one who set off the chain of events, Lithgow’s performance as the lonely widower is nothing short of soft and tender, but with a hard edge. I need more Lithgow in classic horror roles. Get on this Hollywood. You know you want it.
Overall, Pet Sematary gives audiences a lot of ideas and momentum that the classic does. It changes up those ideas in a way that makes sense for the times we’re in now. Although, this new Pet Sematary might leave fans of the original movie and book a little disappointed, which is also very understandable. This film comes in a very mixed bag. However, it still provides enough of those “oh shit” moments to let it still be an enjoyable film. If you want another Stephen King classic that gives a new look on an old masterpiece, then look no further and dig yourself a place in the new Pet Sematary.