Based on Stephen King’s horror 1983 novel of the same name, Pet Sematary has the perfect set-up for scares. The Creed family relocates from busy Boston to a quiet country home in Maine. The family has packed its bags, and some have brought along their baggage.
Mommy Rachel (Amy Seimetz) is tormented by childhood memories of her invalid sister who met with a dreadful death, while daddy Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) hopes that the change of environment and pace will give him more time with his two children.
But life in rural Maine comes with its own dangers. The peaceful idyll is shattered by the sound of speeding trucks whizzing past and somewhere near their estate, deep into the sinister, lonely woods, is a burial ground called “Pet Sematary”.
Beyond a makeshift boundary wall lies another mysterious place, which Louis ventures into despite warnings – because the horror genre thrives on the premise that the protagonist will always do exactly what he or she is warned against.
The problems begin for the Creeds when the family pet cat Church comes under a speeding truck. The sight of Louis’s grieving daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) moves their widower neighbour Jud (John Lithgow), and prompts him to introduce Louis to this burial ground from which dead things (not confined to animals) are reborn.
When things get really grisly, Jud ominously declares, “Sometimes, dead is better.” Too late. If I weren’t already a dog person, Pet Sematary would certainly have converted me into one.
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer shape a movie that, at its core, is deeply tragic, in which death is a foregone conclusion and themes of grief, parenting, guilt, logic and reason versus faith and belief are explored.
While there is an artificiality about the scenes in the woods, the performances, editing and sound design keep the fear factor simmering, especially in scenes in and around the house, with the most frightening being the experience of the toddler Gage (a twist to the original King story).
There are the usual misdirections and things going bump and bang in the night, with Clarke and Laurence giving the film its emotional anchor. In spite of an attempt to modernise the story and cast good actors, this Stephen King adaptation does not hold a candle to the eeriness and chills of Misery, Duel or Carrie.
My favourite moment is when Ellie first introduces her cat to Jud. She says, “He’s named Church, after Winston Churchill.” Jud replies, “I know who Winston Churchill is.” Fans of The Crown will recall that Lithgow played Churchill in the British drama series. It’s a passing moment of insider humour in a largely lifeless remake.