Review: ‘Pet Sematary’ gets serious but falls short

Paramount Picture's

Photo courtesy Liz Owens, Allied Global Marketing

Paramount Picture's "Pet Sematary," the 2019 adaptation of the Stephen King novel, came out April 5.

Christopher Kelly, news staff

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“Pet Sematary” begins as most horror movie remakes do, full of respect to the original source material but featuring obvious refinement to set pieces and plot holes. However, despite improvement across the board in terms of acting and writing, the film fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion and, for a Stephen King adaptation, it leaves us wanting more.

Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer actually tried to make a serious horror movie this time around, and it shows in the changes made to the script and the departure from the clunky exposition of the original. The comedic element the 1989 cast brought is no longer present, as the actors of this remake seem to actually be trying to take their performances seriously.

This movie does have a few positives deserving of recognition, the most significant being the performance. Jason Clarke’s portrayal of Louis Creed, a Massachusetts E.R. doctor, shines in comparison to Dale Midkiff’s work in the original. Midkiff’s robotic and unintentionally comical performance was actually one of the major selling points of the original. His laughable interactions with the rest of the cast were some of the most enjoyable parts of the film. However, Clarke’s performance this time around is more serious, showing that Louis can be portrayed well when put in the right hands.

Amy Seimetz’s performance of Louis’ wife Rachel is also commendable, even more than Denise Crosby’s in the original. It certainly helps that Rachel actually has things to do this time around instead of just screaming and crying throughout the entire film.

Seimetz delivers a stellar performance. Scenes involving her sickly sister, who terrorized her at a young age, comprise some of the most intense portions of the film. Seimetz’s past performances in the horror genre with “Alien: Covenant” and “You’re Next” definitely gave her an edge in preparing for this role and her added screen time is a welcome addition to “Pet Sematary.”

John Lithgow’s performance as Jud Crandall paid homage to Fred Gwynne’s in the original. Both performances can be summarily praised for authenticity and overall kind-hearted creepiness. Jud’s character is improved in this version by a better script, and it is clear that Lithgow was attempting to pay respects to Gwynne’s performance. However, the absence of Gwynne’s heavy Maine accent in the remake is disheartening, taking away a feature that added character to all the heavy exposition that Jud delivers.

The performance of child actor Jeté Laurence as Ellie Creed was also an unexpected but welcome change in this movie. Her character was more involved and defined some of the most suspenseful scenes of the movie alongside Clarke and Lithgow. The chemistry between her and Jud was more believable than the 1989 version and helped carry some of the slower scenes near the end of the film.

Many of the side characters of the original were cut from this version, which was honestly one of the best decisions that they made. The plot of the remake is more focused on the interesting supernatural elements of the actual Pet Sematary. The Native American spirit of the Wendigo was a major plot thread of the original Stephen King novel, helping to explain what the Pet Sematary was and how it came to be a force of evil.

This aspect added to the world-building and fantasy that King is famous for. The original suffered because its version of interesting storytelling was having Jud sit in a chair and spout exposition at the screen until we were so bored that we were waiting for someone to die on-screen for the plot to advance. The improved supernatural storytelling and gradual building of the main plot in the remake are part of why it outshines the original.

Despite all of the drastic improvements that the remake made, it still falls flat around the third act of the film. The slow and suspenseful build-up of the first two acts were left utterly unsatisfied by the rapid pace of the third. The movie tries to wrap up so quickly that it draws away from any meaning it had for the characters when it began. I was so taken aback by the movie’s ending that I did not know it was over until the credits started rolling. In typical horror movie fashion, the movie ends under the grimmest of circumstances, but the changes that were made throughout the film until that point made it seem like they could have done a better job on the cutting room floor.

The original film suffered because it focused on too many different characters who weren’t important to the plot, and the problem with this film is that these characters aren’t actually interesting to begin with. Louis and his entire family are very generic, which shows more in the reboot because more screen time is devoted to them and their interactions with one another. The film slowly starts to build around them and how much they are suffering as they are living so close to the Pet Sematary, but fails to make us feel like we should be rooting for or against them. Every character in this film makes poor decisions and suffers for it, so are we supposed to just expect them all to die by the end and believe that they deserve it? I had no idea what the film was trying to convey to the audience, but by the end of it, I was hoping that they would be able to pull an emotional moment out of it so I could at least hope that the family gets to live on happily ever after. Sadly, this moment never came, and I left without feeling very strongly about the fate of any of the characters.

Paramount Pictures took a gamble greenlighting this film, and they had the opportunity to tell a better story than the original studio had, but they fell just short of striking gold. If you like Stephen King and want to watch a horror movie with great performances and casting, go watch “It”. There’s no cat that terrorizes the main cast for half the movie in that film.