Thirty years ago Mary Lambert brought us her film version of Stephen Kings 1983 novel, capturing the essence of King’s material on screen for the first time in an adaptation that remains a classic of the horror genre. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s second film adaption written by Jeff Buhler from the screen story by Matt Greenburg plays fast and loose with Stephen Kings core material, creating a film that tries too hard to offer something different to Lamberts 1989 vision.
For those who have never seen the original film or read the book, this version of Pet Sematary offers a standard Hollywood horror, that will provide jumps, scares and nightmares. However, unlike 2017’s IT, it bears little resemblance to King’s original vision, choosing to deviate wildly; ultimately losing the pure horror of Kings writing in the process.
Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) move from Boston to the rural town of Ludlow, Maine searching for a more peaceful life with their two children Ellie and Gage. While exploring their new home Ellie notices a procession of children in animal masks wheeling a dead dog to a Pet Sematary in the woods behind their home. Ellie’s exploration leads to a meeting with their neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) and as neighbourly friendships grow Louis begins to understand the importance of the local Pet Sematary and the dark barriers that lay beyond.
Part of the problem in this loose adaptation comes from the casting, Jason Clarke is unemotional, stilted and never conflicted in his views, providing a character the audience struggle to relate to or understand in his actions. Seimetz Rachel is weak, damaged and adds little to the overarching narrative. Lithgow delivers a solid performance as Jud, however, the role of his character in the story is side-lined to a mere passenger on the journey, never allowing Lithgow to develop the full potential of a character with deep meaning, complexity and importance to the story. All of these elements combine to create one-dimensional characters that never manage to reflect King’s vision or match the intensity of Lamberts 1989 film.
Visually Pet Sematary works well, often improving on Lambert’s film by dovetailing the beauty of the Maine landscape with classic gothic horror. Sound design is also impressive, using the space of the sound field to create tension and fear. However, throughout the film, you find yourself wondering why a remake was so essential, with the final answer to this question clear by the end credits; it wasn’t.
Pet Sematary falls into the same trap as countless film remakes, trying to offer something unique and different, but in turn, straying from the original source material and the power of the story. Ultimately this is an unneeded remake of a classic horror film, that deviates from King’s book in a haphazard and clumsy way, leading to a disappointing final product.
Some barriers are not meant to be broken; remaking Pet Sematary was one of them. Watch the original film or read the book instead.