Saturday, April 6, 2019

Pet Sematary (2019)

Maybe I would have been better off skipping the early version of this film. You know, the one from 1989 that is a favorite of kids who grew up in the 80s. I'd never seen it before this year but in anticipation of the remake, I went to that well and took a draught. The film was terrible, and I will be making some comparisons in just a moment, but the premise had potential. It's that potential that made this movie seem so promising. Unfortunately both the first film and the trailers tell you everything that is going to happen, and there is just not enough to justify this movie, even though it is a dozen times better than the original.

Let's get a few of the comparisons out of the way. Starting with the cat, this movie is better cast. The animal that plays "Church" the first return visitor from the Pet Sematary of the title is great. He looks like a real pet at the start of the film, and the shape he is in near the end fits pretty well. I don't think Director mary Lambert cared much about the Pet" part of the story in 1989, but the directors here, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer emphasize the cat a lot more and it adds to the creepy vibe of the film.  Also, the actors in the family are all much more invested and effective than the original cast family. The two biggest adds are Jete Laurence as the doomed daughter Ellie and Jason Clarke as the bereaved father Louis Creed. Laurence has a degree of professionalism around her that makes her more believable in the role than her predecessor. Jason Clarke is simple a much better actor than the wooden and painful to watch Dale Midkiff. As he has shown in a variety of films, even bad ones, Clarke can convey emotions and function as a human being, which he does pretty well here. The one actor from the original that was not an embarrassment was veteran Fred Gwynne as the neighbor who knows secrets, Jud. In this go round we are provided the excellent John Lithgow, who lends gravitas and some skill to the supernatural explanations.

The main problem for me continues to be the story. The willingness to ignore what they know to be a dangerous action, both for a pet and a child, defies all the emotional pressures that are built up. Rachel, the mom played by Amy Seimetz, is incredulous at the action her husband must have done to get to the twist in the story, and so am I. A man who is learned, had several warning from the afterlife and also has some negative experience to go with it, simply is blinded by inconsolable loss. I suppose it could happen but all that is required is to think past the next day and I think you would back off. Maybe the one place that the previous film was more successful was in the use of the character Victor Pascow. He was visualized more ominously in the 89 version and was better used to set up how dire things could be. That character is substantially reduced in this rendering, and that is a weakness.

Local ritual was brought up early in the film as kids bury their pets, but other than one creepy sequence with kids wearing masks as they take a dog to his final resting place, there is just nothing that comes from this. The new directors and screenwriters wisely trimmed the role of the grandparents down. We never really hear from them and the unpleasant history of Rachel and her sister is presented with just enough detail to be horrifying and relevant without stealing too much focus from the main horror.

Since I knew all of the story beats already, and the trailers, previous film (and this review unfortunately) probably telegraph them to you, there is not suspense, just dread as we await the results of Louis' action. The final scenes with Jud are not as scary as they were in the first film, but everything at the Creed home is more frightening this time around. I was not terribly disappointed because my expectations were tempered by the earlier film and the story. Early buzz had the film becoming a major upgrade and a modern horror classic. As someone once said , almost certainly in a movie, "reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated".  I'm sorry to paraphrase, but it seems appropriate here, "reports of this films excellence have been greatly exaggerated." It's mildly satisfying, but it is not the shocker it so strives to be. 


douglas said...

Yeah, the reviews on KPCC said "all you need to do is watch the trailer." What we need is for you to write a screenplay about a haunted trailer. Maybe with Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz

Jihoon Song said...


This was my first introduction to Pet Sematary, and I didn't like the plot of the movie. The trailers had increased my expectations for the movie, but it was a disappointment. I thought there would be more to the creepy children doing the burial procession, but nothing. Also, there is too much gore and not enough plot.

To begin, Church before the burial was a sweet, beautiful cat, but after the burial, it is very clear that he is no longer himself. He just looks wrong. After seeing the cat, I was flabbergasted that the Dad still decided to bury his daughter in the sour ground.

I have problems with the character Jud that is portrayed in this movie. Jud is the one who introduced the Dad to the sour ground in the first place, and I am so frustrated that he did. Jud saw his mean dog come back meaner, and it is implied that Jud also buried his wife in the sour ground, only for him to end her for good when she came back from the dead. After all that, he should have known better than to introduce Dad to that place "for Ellie" to bury Church. If Jud really wanted what was best for Ellie, he would not have led Dad to bury Church in that sour ground. But I guess his judgement was clouded because the sour ground had a control over him that made him want to see its works again and again, no matter how horrible the previous experience was.

And now, about the Mom and Dad. As for the Dad, why doesn't he take a hint from Victor? Victor tries so hard to warn Dad of the evil of that place, but Dad just shakes it off even after his feet are covered in mud. Dad is so thick skinned. Dad also doesn't communicate with Mom what has happened with Church and what he planned on doing with his deceased daughter, which may be in part because of Mom's trauma with death, but I still think this family has some communication issues. Mom's parents are messed up for leaving her, when she was little, with a suffering, verbally abusive older sister. If their house is any indication of their economic well being, they could've hired a nurse to look after the older sister and save Mom from some childhood trauma. It would have been good for Mom to see a therapist a long time ago, seeing how traumatized she is and how adamant she is against teaching the children about death. From Dad's thick-skinned insistence to ignore Victor and Mom's adamant stance against teaching Ellie anything about death, this family's flaws fan their downfall.

Towards the end of the film, I really wished that Victor would rescue Gage from this madness and take him someplace safe. The last scenes of the movie, with Gage inside the car as zombie Dad looks inside the window and opens the car with a beep, is so frustrating. The ending is unsatisfactory as misfortune just rains down on the family and distorts them all.

Richard Kirkham said...

All of these are valid points. Victor was underutilized in this version of the film. Jud seems to share his knowledge for no reason whatsoever and Dad can only be explained by grief.