Damn the trailers.
That’s how I felt walking out of Pet Sematary last night. Damn the enticing and genuinely enticing trailers that had me so hyped to see the new adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel. Even if they gave away the big spoiler of the film, I was good. The film had me.
Until I sat down to watch what could go down, as my film companion Scotty G suggested, as the worst film of 2019. It’s certainly an early contender.
A brief synopsis for the uninitiated: The Creeds, Louis and Rachel (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz) move their family, 9 year Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and 2 year old Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie) to the town of Ludlow. Their new home backs onto the woods, where a pet cemetery is located. When the Creeds’ cat, Church, is killed, their new neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) takes Louis to bury Church in an area beyond the cemetery. The next day, the cat comes back. Different. And then things get worse.
Look, I’m not hard to please. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, as readers of the site know. Hell, I wrote my second book all about one of his classic novels, The Stand. I have the Dark Tower tattooed on my left arm. I even genuinely liked the movie that was based on the series, the one that EVERYBODY ELSE hated. I’m an easy mark for King. I just want to be scared when I go to a horror movie. Is that so wrong?
Unfortunately, the new Pet Sematary is so poorly adapted that, while I did jump a few times (the character of Zelda was definitely creepy), the film was so poorly written I felt as though it was just a slog to make it through the scary stuff. What should have been a moving and horrifying treatise on grief and the loss of a child is simply a not-so-scary, two hours of stupid people making stupid mistakes, over and over.
It’s been thirty years since I read King’s original novel, which I remember finding frightening and heart-wrenching. This morning, to refresh my memory, I read the synopsis of the novel on Wikipedia, to see what was missing from the film. Apparently, there’s a lot, including what I absolutely felt was lacking – Jud’s motivation to bury and bring back Church the cat in the first place, knowing that whatever comes back is “sour”. It’s there in the book, but the movie spends such little time building a relationship between these characters, that we have to settle for a hackneyed and quick exposition of the area’s “pull” to try and make sense of it all.
While John Lithgow does fine enough work as Jud (though he never once says “ayuh”, which is a miss), Clarke and Seimetz unfortunately just sleepwalk through their roles. Clarke, a good actor, is especially disappointing; I’m a dad, I should have been emotionally drawn in and devastated by his character’s grief. It just wasn’t there.
Pet Sematary is a frightening book; one of Stephen King’s scariest. It certainly could have been remade for a new generation, but instead, audiences have been left with a film that came back to the big screen sour.