Pet Sematary

I read a lot of Stephen King books as a kid, and I was usually disappointed. They’d have a few interesting scares, but I was usually let down by how the characters were developed and almost always by the anticlimactic endings. Pet Sematary was one of the better books, and I remember thinking how interesting it was to see how grief could drag people down into such dark places.

I was going to SDSU when the movie Pet Sematary came out, and was lucky enough to have a friend working at a movie theatre who could get us into movies for free. He wanted to see this, but I talked him into seeing Dennis Quaid playing Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire (which was scarier, but for a different reason). As we were leaving the disappointing bio-pic, we walked into Pet Sematary but all we caught were the closing credits. I said, “Oh wow, The Ramones are singing the theme song!”

I never went back to watch the movie, since it got bad reviews. I didn’t see the sequel a few years later, either.

But of course, with Stephen King’s It bringing in so much money, and the sequel of Halloween last year making a fortune…as well as Jordan Peele’s overly-praised horror movies breaking the bank, it only seemed natural that they’d re-boot this.

Reports are that Stephen King really liked this version (and he’s been known to dislike most of his films, even The Shining). And speaking of The Shining, as much fun as Jack Nicholson was in that, the problem with casting him is that he looked crazy, even before he went crazy. I had that problem with Jason Clarke in this. He’s playing a surgeon, and loving father and husband. Yet to me, he always had this look on his face like he was about to take a belt of whiskey and start smashing things. So it’s hard to buy his level of grief later in the film.

The rest of the cast is perfect. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) hits all the right notes, and the flashbacks we see to her childhood drama are well done and eerie.

The two actors that steal the show, though — John Lithgow as the neighbor Jud, who is both avuncular and a tad creepy (side note: why do we find a character creepy just because they’re looking out their window?). He’s got a bushy white beard, smokes hand-rolled cigarettes, and drinks Hamm’s beer.

And the young girl that wins the neighbor’s heart in this movie, will win over everyone that sees this. Jete Laurence (The Ranger) plays the 9-year-old girl that loves ballet dancing and playing with her cat. Of course, we all know the story by now — the cat’s going to die, be buried in the pet cemetery, and come back as sort of a zombie cat. Oh, and what they do with that cat when it returns is really, really freaky. That’s also one of the fun things about this movie. Aside from the many jump scares, there’s a lot of other creepy stuff going on. The visuals are all great, aside from the forest at night. All the fog and voices felt a bet amateurish.

Screenwriter Jeff Buhler, and the two directors — Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer — keep the running time to 100 minutes, which is both good and bad. It makes it nicely paced and never boring, but…it doesn’t give you enough time to see these characters wallowing in the depths of their grief.

I won’t give away what happens, for those that don’t know the original story, but the set up involves a family moving from Boston to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. At one point there’s a mention of why they had to move, but we’re not told what that is.

Early on, they witness the local children doing a bizarre procession, each with bizarre looking animal masks on their faces. The girl at the end is banging a drum, and it’s all the perfect setting of the stage.

Since I was at the CinemaCon convention when this movie came out, the reviews had all come in before I had ever seen it. I glanced at a few, and rolled my eyes. So many critics are hating on this. And that’s fine. This certainly isn’t Citizen Kane. I just can’t figure out why Jordan Peele gets this love, as if he’s the Orson Welles of horror (and I still contend, his best movie was about a cat). This story, about people living and burying animals on an ancient Indian burial ground — certainly seems more plausible than the folks living underground in Us.

The critics have taken a line Lithgow says in this to sum up their review — “Sometimes, dead is better.”

Well, I brought a friend that loves horror movies, and she liked it a lot. I certainly had fun with all the jump scares. The cat is way scarier than Cujo (how soon until that rabid St. Bernard is re-booted?).

The film could’ve been better. The 3rd act is just a mess (although I loved the ending).

It’s all nicely shot, well-acted, and brings in a few scares. Perhaps it hurts the movie if you come into it knowing the story already, though.

2 ½ stars out of 5.


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