Pet Sematary (2019)

A very dark and very creepy horror film that leans too heavily on subverting the source material and making things more bleak than necessary.

It is preferable in reviews to address the film itself and not how it compares to previous iterations and source material. This film embraces the comparisons and whole segments of the film only really work if the audience has a strong memory of the original 1989 film and of the 1983 book by Stephen King.

The story follows a family that moves into a new house. In the woods behind the house they find a neighborhood pet cemetery. It is deeply creepy with a procession of kids in nightmare-style animal masks who march through the woods to bury a furry friend. When the busy highway out front claims the life of the family cat, Jud their neighbor shows them where to bury the cat, so that it will come back. However sometimes when things come back, they don’t come back the same.

The movie has some wonderful moments and builds tension beautifully. The film uses dread like a weapon. There is a sequence in which one character suspects something has come back from the Pet Sematary and is looking through the house for it. The audience knows it is there and knows that what it is about to see is going to be horrible. The filmmakers play on the audience’s imaginations to create a wonderfully suspenseful scene.

The character of Jud is played by John Lithgow, and he is perfection as always. He dissolves completely into this role. He inhabits the part and infuses lines with heart, history, and a subtle warmth. He can also make anything sound dreadful and ominous. “Sometimes dead is better.” That line sounds like a warning filled with history and understanding that few actors can pull off.

The book and original film have famously bleak endings, but this adaptation makes the ending even more horrifying and dismal. This is too much. It is hopeless and appalling and sours the preceding film. It’s just a little extra nastiness that sends the viewer off on a bad note.

It’s unfair to compare a movie to its book. The two mediums are vastly different and operate on such different levels that any comparison falls flat. “The book was better!” Is the common marching cry, but books to films is like comparing paintings to sculpture. They’re similar sure, but have vastly different rules and goals. However, this film invites comparisons. It goes out of its way to point out the ways in which it is different from its source material. They set up moments exactly as they appear in the book then subvert those moments at the last second in a gotcha style twist. Perhaps these twists won’t mean anything to a casual viewer unfamiliar with the book or original film, but they pulled me out of the movie and out of the moment.

I enjoyed 80 to 85% of this movie. It was creepy and dreadful and had some wonderful jolts. It also had some nasty extras just for the sake of pushing the envelope and subverting expectations. For the most part this is my cup of tea. – B

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