Pet Sematary (2019) Review

It seems we are in the midst of a Stephen King adaptation boom; with television shows – namely Castle Rock – and films – including Gerald’s Game, The Mist and It just to name a few. The newest of these, although a remake, is Pet Sematary. I have been told that at the time of the original release the film was horrifying, with phantom cars and pets brought back from the dead, although it’s a little dated now and should come as no surprise that it is being remade. King’s literary material provides enough inspiration for an entire generation worth of horror writers/directors and his influence in creating supernatural, psychological, haunting and emotional stories is likely to effect generations to come. For this particular project the team of writers include Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train, and The Grudge to be released in 2020) and Matt Greenburg (1408, Halloween H20). It was directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer who have previously worked together on a number of occasions including Holidays, Starry Eyes and two episodes in season three of Netflix’s Scream.
Pet Sematary follows the Creed family as they leave the hustle and bustle of inner city life to live in the country in a large house with sweeping acreage, including a lush and largely mysterious forest. Early on the audience is introduced to the pet sematary by a procession of masked individuals carrying their deceased pet along whilst they bang on a drum; it’s eery to say the least. Surrounding one side of this cemetery is an extremely high wall of logs, much like a dam, which clearly foreshadows what is to come. The grounds on the other side of this log-wall hold a power which is not understood, and at no point really provided with rationale or questioning, but it has the ability to bring things back to life…….. ish…… they are never truly the same, they are evil, angry and vengeful. In the words of their elderly neighbour “sometimes dead is better”.
This film is a little closer to the mainstream, Hollywood blockbuster style horror that brings popcorn eaters to the movies. There are jump scares, the undead, huge amounts of foreshadowing aimed to created tension for the audience and scenes that definitely had me with my hands over my eyes peeping through my fingers – and some that I really didn’t need to/want to see but I guess that’s part of horror. Added to this was the interactive screening, this was how I saw the film, which included a man strolling casually around the cinema with an animal mask on creeping people out. I left this session anxious but mostly pleased due to both the film and the screening style. There were parts that were genuinely scary and a few parts which didn’t play out quite as I had expected which is nice, however, I do have a few gripes with it overall – perhaps more so in retrospect. One is the anticlimactic ending, which I won’t venture too far into for fear of spoilers, and to be honest I am not sure how else you could have ended it other than the strange, bleak ending provided but it just left me a little flat. Secondly, and perhaps most notably, is the dialogue. I understand that dialogue in any form of story telling has to have a function, preferably more than one function. It should further develop characters, relationships, propel the story along, add foreshadowing, provide an opportunity for growth etc. And for this reason dialogue can, at times, feel unnatural and scripted. In spite of this, there should be a flow; I don’t want to know that these are actors reading from a script, I want to believe they are real. I also don’t want every line to be either a warning for the characters or an obvious, hit-you-over-the-head hint at what is to come. My last significant gripe is the distinct lack of background information; what was the sister-in-law sick with and why was this important in the story other than to add another element to scare the audience with because I don’t feel like the mum (played by Amy Seimetz from The Killing and Stranger Things) grew from this? Why do things come back from the dead? What makes the grounds ‘sour’? I know news clippings hinted at reasons for the magical grounds but these were swiftly brushed past with comments that basically implied, “no one really knows, it just is the way it is”. I really felt that the inclusion of a folklore or haunting theories were a missed opportunity here to scare the audience with.
Now before giving my star rating I should preface this with the fact that I have not seen the original and therefore cannot compare the two. I did, and almost always do, enjoy a horror film that has an actual storyline and I stand by the fact that when it comes to horror children are always terrifying, at least for me. It did take half the movie to reach the crux of the story, however, I had had moments of fear beforehand so it was only a small let down. It does also leave the audience questioning their relationship with death and what this means to them which lifts this film above just being a horror for the sake of horror, reflecting the source material and creativity of the writers/directors. So overall I think the safest amount of stars to give this film is:

3 out of 5 birds -Erin

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