A doctor and his family move to a rural Maine town, where a dangerous road and a burial ground said to raise the dead leads to monstrous violence.
Director: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer
Writers: Matt Greenberg (screen story), Jeff Buhler (screenplay), Stephen King (original novel)
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo & Lucas Lavoie
Pet Sematary (2019) is the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel of the macabre that bears the same name. While King’s novel is a work of bleak brilliance that explores the darkest aspects of humanity’s desire to escape death, this film is an actual embodiment of every mistake in modern horror filmmaking. That is harsh criticism in a world where Stephen King adaptations are rarely excellent, but this one falls to the bottom of the barrel with a story adaptation that obliterates at every turn the tense fear and anguish so prevalent in both the novel and Mary Lambert’s 1989 film version.
In this reiteration, Dr. Louis Creed is played by Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Terminator Genisys), with Amy Seimetz (Stranger Things series, Alien: Covenant) as his wife, Rachel; their daughter Ellie and toddler son Gage are played by Jeté Laurence (Gotham & Jessica Jones series) and twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie (debut), respectively. Jud, resident old-timer and catalyst of the story’s supernatural events, is played by the adept John Lithgow (Raising Cain 1992, Rise of the Planet of the Apes). The director’s chair is helmed by the duo of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Scream: The TV Series), with Jeff Buhler (The Prodigy 2019) writing a screenplay from Matt Greenberg’s (1408, Halloween H20) story adaptation.
Much like the 2017 retelling of It, Pet Sematary 2019 falls victim to the trap of “more is better,” which is a death-blow for novel translations whose original material deals heavily in subtlety. The writers and production crew tackle the source material with all the subtlety of a jack-hammer this go around, and even Stephen Sommers circa Van Helsing would say “maybe you need to tone it down a bit.”
A prime example of this ham-fisted approach is how the film deals with wife Rachel’s childhood trauma caused by her nasty, bed-ridden sister’s death. Originally, Rachel’s adult-aversion to death stemmed from her being present when her sister dies of a gruesome, body-wracking illness. In this version, Rachel’s literal twisted-sister dies of falling down a dumbwaiter. As someone from the east coast of the United States who has actually used a dumbwaiter, I can tell you this is absolutely ridiculous. Are we to expect the character, her muscles and bones torqued like pretzels, somehow waddled her way to the open dumbwaiter and forced herself in like an angry ventriloquist cramming their dummy into a lunchbox?
This is just one instance where the filmmakers tried upping the ante in all the wrong ways. Instead of the titular pet cemetery being a nicely-kept, vaguely occult affair, this one is regularly populated with children in ragged Mardi Gras animal masks, who complete funeral processions behind the family’s home with the regularity of an ice cream truck. This is made all the worse by post-production choices that baffle the mind in this day and age, such as dubbing angry cat sounds over the family feline who, in the actual shots, is calm and silent. This is forgivable in The Adventures of Milo and Otis, but not here and now.
For their parts, the cast does what they can with the script, but the direction seems to force everyone down into a deep depression before there is even reason for the bad feelings to emerge. There is none of the excitement of a family-move portrayed, and no hope is to be found in the slightest trace. This is to be expected by the end of the morose tale, but when the story lacks it from the get-go, the only destination is boredom-town.
Ultimately, there’s very little to recommend Pet Sematary 2019. The art direction is nice, but the film’s desperate attempts to overdo everything renders its effect empty. The script lacks any soul to help the cast bring life of any kind to the screen, and what’s left for the audience to slog through is a true waste of time.