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New To DVD - PET SEMATARY

pet sematary review
Following a tragedy, a father harnesses the supernatural powers of the woods beyond his home.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence

pet sematary 2019 poster


Hoping to nab the substantial audience that lapped up 2017's It comes this fresh take on Stephen King's 1983 novel, Pet Sematary. Director Mary Lambert previously adapted King's story rather faithfully in 1989, and while that movie received a lukewarm reception on its release, its status has grown somewhat in the decades since, and a generation of '80s and '90s kids have the image of its zombie kid planted in their collective psyche.

Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the duo responsible for the Lynchian horrors of Starry Eyes), this new version takes one major departure from King's original, and it's a misjudged decision that sends a generally atmospheric little chiller into the realms of camp.


pet sematary 2019 review

The ubiquitous Jason Clarke plays Louis Creed, a Boston doctor who relocates to a small Maine town when he is assigned a position in the campus hospital of the state university. His wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), isn't sold on the idea of life in such a remote area, but his kids - nine-year-old Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and toddler Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie) - immediately embrace their new surroundings, as does the family cat, Church.

When said moggy is flattened on the road outside the Creed home, elderly neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) takes Louis to a secret location deep in the woods, where he instructs him to bury his cat. The next day, Louis is shocked to find Church alive and well, though looking a little worse for wear, and with a new, decidedly angry temperament. What Jud didn't tell Louis was that the patch of land where they buried the cat possesses supernatural, rejuvenating powers. When the Creed family suffers a very human tragedy, Louis returns once more to that area, despite Jud's warnings.


pet sematary 2019 review

Folk horror is often thought of as a uniquely European, particularly British sub-genre. The argument against an American exploration of its themes is that the US doesn't have a long enough history, but of course that's a very ignorant, Eurocentric view of the North American continent. The truth is, America has as many myths and legends as any European country, but as with Native American culture in general, they've been largely erased. The most intriguing aspect of Kölsch and Widmyer's adaptation is how they tap into New England folklore, with even the mythical Wendigo making a surprise but welcome cameo. Early on, the children of the village are seen in a funeral procession for a deceased pet, and with the kids clad in creepy animal masks, it's an image that recalls that folk-horror staple The Blood on Satan's Claw. Add some old school mist shrouded grave-digging of the Universal horror variety and there's plenty of catnip for horror fans here.

The trouble with adapting King's novels for the screen is that they're so dense it can be difficult to condense his tales into a two hour running time. For my money, the best screen adaptation of King is still Tobe Hooper's two-part TV mini-series of Salem's Lot, its four hour running time allowing Hooper and writer Paul Monash plenty of room to let King's story breathe. The best cinematic adaptations of King tend to be those based on his shorter works, like Carrie, Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption. In the case of Pet Sematary, there are sub-plots that could have easily been excised without detracting from the overall story. I'm thinking of Rachel's flashbacks to the death of her ailing sister and Louis's visions of the college student who died in his surgery. Stuffed into a limited run-time here, neither of these elements add anything worthwhile to the narrative.


pet sematary 2019 review

Conversely, Kölsch and Widmyer fail to devote enough time to Louis, initially a die-hard devotee of science and rationality, wrestling with the unnatural world Jud has introduced him to. When the pivotal tragedy strikes the Creed family, the film jumps ahead a week, denying us key scenes of Louis arriving to the dubious decision he ultimately makes. Similarly all too brief is the relationship between Louis and Jud. In King's novel, the latter becomes a sort of surrogate father to the former, but no such kinship is evidenced here. On the contrary, Louis actually comes across as a bit of a dick to the older man, treating him as a potential threat to his kids, which makes his going along with Jud's trip to the woods incongruous with his hostility.

In an effort to pull the rug out from under those viewers familiar with King's book or Lambert's previous adaptation, Kölsch and Widmyer take a surprise departure in the film's second half. It's an unwise one, replacing the genuinely unsettling imagery of Lambert's climax with something closer to the campness of the 1991 Child's Play knockoff Dolly Dearest. It's a shame, as up to that point, this Pet Sematary deviates sufficiently and effectively enough to stand on its own, but ultimately it's another pointless resurrection of a horror favourite. Sometimes dead really is better.

Pet Sematary comes to UK DVD August 12th.


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