Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Premise: An adaptation of the book by Stephen King. A family moves to a rural home and discovers a pet graveyard on their property. Animals buried in the woods beyond the cemetery return to life but they don’t come back the same.
What Works: The 2019 adaptation of Pet Sematary comes three decades after the well regarded 1989 version. The filmmakers of the new Pet Sematary find ways to innovate on the material and give the audience a few surprises while remaining true to the core ideas. In particular, this film develops the themes of the inevitability of death and the necessity to let go of the departed. Of particular interest is the backstory of the mother whose sibling died at a young age. These flourishes give Pet Sematary some substance. This is a story about how our fear of death can become monstrous.
What Doesn’t: The primary problem with 2019’s Pet Sematary is that it is not very scary. There are a few shocking moments but overall the filmmakers fail to create an atmosphere of dread. There is little sense of an encroaching threat, even when the family’s undead cat resumes its place in the home, nor does this story feel as though it is building toward its conclusion. The film rarely feels horrific; this story has both visceral terrors and emotional horrors but those elements rarely make the impact that they should. Pet Sematary establishes several themes, such as the inevitability of death and the need to let go, but a lot of those ideas are not seen through. One idea that’s especially bungled is the father’s atheism. Early on, he denies any belief in the supernatural but then he’s witness to several supernatural happenings. That should cause a major shift in his character but it’s just passed over. There are a few other plot points that are inexplicable; after a family tragedy, the wife leaves her husband alone at their house. This isn’t credible unless the couple was already having problems but that’s not established. The storytelling really struggles in its final stretch. The film doesn’t come to a conclusion so much as it just stops. Pet Semetary struggles to engage the viewer in part because the characters are so generic. The main characters are a bland nuclear family with very little to distinguish them, especially the children who are stock Hollywood kids.
Bottom Line: The 2019 version of Pet Sematary is underwhelming. The film is well produced and even finds a few ways of innovating upon the material but it never quite gets the horror right.
Episode: #745 (April 14, 2019)