After 2017’s It was a critical and financial success, Stephen King adaptations immediately became the hottest properties in all of Hollywood. So rather than take a lesser-known property to remake, like Graveyard Shift, or a film that was poorly received upon its initial release, like Sleepwalkers or Dreamcatcher, the first film to follow the It-hype was Pet Sematary, a remake of the 1989 horror classic which, for this critic, is one of the most unsettling horror movies he’s ever seen. With It elevating the horror elements, yet diving deep into the themes and story of King’s novel, I was anticipating Pet Sematary would do the same.
Unfortunately, the film does neither. This new Pet Sematary has a couple of creepy moments and deals with the same themes, but the film suffers from poor pacing, unnecessary changes in the story, and a flat tone.
Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family move from Boston to small Maine town to get away from the craziness of the city and so that Dr. Reed’s work schedule can be a little lighter and he can spend more time with his family. The family quickly finds out that they are living on a mysterious burial ground deep in the woods behind their house where local kids have deemed it the Pet Sematary, where they bury their pets and other dead animals victim of the road. When their family cat dies, Louis’ neighbor, Judd (John Lithgow), shows him the true power of the Pet Sematary and the burial ground they live on. However, when one of their kids dies, Louis uses the power of the burial ground to resurrect them, only for him to realize that the dead should stay dead.
One of the aspects that made the original so great was the film’s sunny, happy moments. Sounds weird to say about a horror movie, but this made the horror and tragedies far more powerful. We are introduced to our characters and their new house in this bright, almost dreamlike moment, where they look at their house as a new family haven. Even when they find the Pet Sematary behind their house, it isn’t a scene of impending doom, but just a weird coincidence. We watch the family be a family. We watch them play, have actual human conversations, and bond as a family. As a viewer, these moments calm us and give us hope for this family, which then makes the scarier and darker moments even more traumatizing. The scene where their child dies in the original is a horrifying ordeal and the film’s climax and final scene are all the more shocking because we don’t see them coming and they are all done in the sunlight. These are the scenes that leave an impact on you long after the film is over and what make the original film a horror classic.
This isn’t the case in the new version. I understand that in remakes there will be changes, but the changes that directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer made actually took away everything that was great about the original film. The entire tone of this movie is dark, moody, and sad, which then makes the darker and sadder moments just feel like beats in the movie instead of scary or powerful moments. Sure, there are a couple jump scares, but that’s not what makes Stephen King movies great. King digs into your soul and conscience and makes you think about the character motivations and leaves imprints in your mind of the images that you saw and the events that occurred. There isn’t any of that here. You just anticipate that this family is going to have the worst happen to them. Every scene is somber, it’s always cloudy and rainy (legit, no sun, ever), and you rarely see the family bond together. There is never a scene of warmth or love here, so you never get that feeling that this family is going to be okay and you never get a moment to love this family. When the scary moments happen, they don’t really scare. When their child dies, it’s sad, but it doesn’t crush your soul like the original did because you are just waiting for bad things to happen. They also changed the story of the mother and her sister, which is one of the creepier elements in the original that adds more layers to the already deep story. That element of the story doesn’t pay off in the end and actually ends up feeling useless in the overall result of the movie.
Aside from effecting the story, these changes in tone and story make the movie feel exponentially longer than it really is. Though it has a run time nearly exactly the same as the original film, this new Pet Sematary feels about an hour longer, which is dreadful to sit through. The finale of the film is a complete disaster. In the original film, the final act was quick, creepy, and haunting, with the final scene being one that shook me to my core. Here, the climax lasts far too and adds an element that only makes the shock of it all non-existent. Ultimately, this isn’t a scary movie because none of the scares are surprising because you are just waiting for bad things to happen. The characters aren’t relatable or empathetic, so you don’t care about their fate at the end of the movie.
I don’t like comparing movies to one another, but I feel like it was necessary for Pet Sematary. What we have here is a case of where one film did it right and one film did it wrong. One film set up its characters, switches up it’s tones, and is a truly haunting film. One film is lazy, bland, and not scary, three aspects that do not belong in a Stephen King adaptation. The 2019 Pet Sematary does a complete disservice to King’s property and does a disservice to the original film.
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