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Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is one of those books that you come across first when identifying his most noteworthy novels. However I have never had the chance to read the book, nor watch the original film. Now with a resurgence of King novels making their way to the big screen with a majority of success, hype for the newest adaptation of Pet Sematary has been deafening.
Talk about a waste of evident potential; with gorgeous and vibrantly terrifying sets that orchestrated well thought out ideas, the directors leave so much on the table that it’s collapsing. Horror can be many things, and while fans may enjoy a standard pop up scarefest, a great mixture of jumps and build are what generates a classic to look back to. The issue with Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s direction is that it combines too much, creating an incoherent mess of a horror film that comes off more stale than successful when it actually works. It doesn’t help that the third act is a rushed hodgepodge of horror tropes, just instead of in a natural horror film environment it’s in the next best thing— a Pet Sematary!
While there are elements that haunted my dreams the night afterward, the story structure and the pacing jilted my enjoyment of the film, especially the irritating ending. Screenwriters Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler have taken the “classic” Stephen King novel and have adapted it to the big screen with semi-success. Greenberg crafted the screenstory and Buhler adapted it into a screenplay. Buhler is the writer to speak about here as he has multiple upcoming horror films that are original or adapting older horror films back. The story is a tad all over the place, with a long winded build up to endless “horrifying” scenes already revealed in the trailer. The revival of the daughter to the exhausting finale is rushed due to the unnecessary build to the events of her resurrection. The iconic cat dying and being brought back from Jud and Louis is a necessary scene and seeing it turn quickly into a demonic, unfamiliar being represents what will happen with the daughter, but it just drags slightly. I will elaborate again that I have not read nor watched the original film, however in this iteration of the novel to the big screen, I was not a fan of the odd connection between a young college student dying early on and then haunting the father, and later son, warning them of the circumstances of bringing back the dead. Buhler already released his feature The Prodigy earlier this year and has multiple others approaching soon, so his writing here may or may not be a turn off for future projects.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Pet Sematary has a mixed bag of a cast, and while Jason Clarke gives the best performance he’s given since Dawn of the Planet of Apes, he still couldn’t hold back his natural accent in an emotional scene, ruining the character in the process. The mother figure played by Amy Seimetz (Alien: Covenant) stars in some of the most frightening scenes in the film, and that’s primarily because of her mental problems with being unable to let go of her disabled sisters death from childhood. As a mother she is haunting at the realization of her husband’s choice to bring back a demonic version of their daughter from the dead. Before I get to the absolute best part of the film, yet slightly wasted, let’s talk about the child actors: Jeté Laurence (playing the daughter, Ellie) and the Lavole twins (playing the singular Gage). Gage is barely even in the film besides a reference to the original film, the sigh provoking ending, and a haunting in a scene or two. However Ellie is who the film truly revolves around, leaving Gage in the background. Laurence’s performance while alive is stilted and less than special, however once undead (SPOILER) she is thrilling, terrifying and absolutely perfect for the role. John Lithgow is the man who is underutilized in the film, however his performance when on screen is tremendous and was needed so much more. It's just a shame what happens with his character, as he is truly the only character that’s even slightly relatable.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Chilling to the bone, composer Christopher Young has crafted a wonderful score that illuminates the horror qualities of the film while shredding at the heartstrings of emotional happenings. While Young does use his score as a false scare from time to time, which typically becomes exhausting, in Pet Sematary there’s a scare you might just not be able to see what’s in front of your face before it sneaks it’s way to the forefront. The sound design is spectacular in this feature however, sending chills down my spine with even the slightest growling in the night or the shovel hitting the cold tainted soil. The sound department knew exactly what they were doing and they are one of the true saviors of the film in my eyes. While the writing and direction may have lost direction at points, the sound course corrected.
The effects are glorious, bringing back the best about horror to the big screen with a pleasant use of practical sets to create a wonderful world of classic horror. The film is bloody when it wants to be, however it doesn’t overindulge itself in gruesome gore, beyond a few notable sequences. The accidents that lead to the deaths of the college student, cat, and daughter are not shown entirely in frame and let the gruesome violence occur off screen, which seemed like a good choice even if it may not be the most haunting of images (nothing here is up to par with the horrifying decapitation scene in Hereditary).
I wanted to love Pet Sematary... I really, really did. However the film I received was a less than spectacular horror film that works only because of its atmosphere and occasional operational jumpscare. It’s Stephen King Easter eggs put a smile on my face, however little nods do not propel a below average horror above and beyond.