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 new adaption written by Jeff Buhler 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 us a standard Hollywood horror that will provide jumps. However, unlike 2017’s IT, it bears little resemblance to King’s original vision, choosing to deviate wildly, and ultimately losing the horror of King’s work in the process.
Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) have just moved from Boston to the rural town of Ludlow, Maine. They are searching for a more peaceful life with their two children, Ellie and Gage, and Ludlow initially seems to tick every box. However, 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 house. As she follows the local kids, Ellie bumps into their neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who explains the importance of the local Pet Sematary. However, when Jud talks to her dad, he also explains 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 us with a character it’s almost impossible to relate to. Meanwhile, Seimetz’ Rachel adds little to the overarching narrative. Lithgow carries the movie, yet he is relegated to a mere passenger in the narrative changes. These problems combine to create a series of one-dimensional characters that offer little to no depth.
However, visually Pet Sematary works well, improving on Lambert’s film by dovetailing the beauty of Maine with classic gothic horror. Sound design is equally impressive, using the vast sound field to create moments of exquisite tension and fear. However, the result is an unnecessary and lacklustre remake, with a finale that steers off track and becomes ridiculous.
Pet Sematary falls into the same trap as countless film remakes, trying to offer something unique and different, but in turn, straying from the 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 haphazardly and clumsily throughout, 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.