The Stephen King-based “Pet Sematary” offers a well-balanced story which blends psychological drama with brooding horror.
A married couple moves to a new house. The family soon finds a secret cemetery for animals that’s located within their private territory. Soon, the family needs to face the dark secrets and powers that the pet sematary hides.
It’s not the first time that King’s “Pet Sematary” has been brought to the big screen. The 1989 adaptation has met with rather unfavorable reviews, but despite them, a follow-up was released three years later. The sequel didn’t bring much to the table either, leaving the fans of King’s novel frustrated. Luckily, some stories do have a happy ending. In terms of book-to-film adaptations, “Pet Sematary” reboot worked much, much better than its original predecessor.
The 2019 version, directed by duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (directors of a great occult horror “Starry Eyes”), begins with a sneaky shot of blood-stamped door and footsteps leading to a house through open doors. This foreshadowing does little to build anticipation, but Kölsch & Widmyer quickly jump off that ship and cut to the heroes of this tale – the Creed family – Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence).
One of the tones that resonate strongly in the first half of “Pet Sematary” is the clash between Louis and Rachel. The conflict derives from varying visions of Ellie’s juvenescence. The husband is an atheist, who sees nothing wrong in laying down the harsh truth about dying to his young daughter. He’s grounded and takes world as it is, without the spiritual side to life. Rachel, on the other hand, is internally conflicted and mentally fragile, gnawed by traumatic past related to her bedridden sister who tragically died in a very young age.
These different approaches in coping with death are paramount to the film’s spine. As more horrid things are revealed – all the way until the shocking finale – Kölsch & Widmyer explore these fears and point of views, at the same time transforming them too. Louis’ no longer the calming father from the film’s beginning, but instead he turns into an emotionally unstable, desperate and inevitably dangerous man. And Rachel needs to act on accordingly to save her family.
Interestingly, “Pet Sematary” works best within that psychological area. The directing duo is fully aware of the moral spine of King’s novel, and they make sure to question the deeds of the Creeds more than once. Observing Louis as he’s driven mad by grief provokes the audience and makes one think whether there is any right or wrong here. And judging that behavior is hard just as much as imagining the situation in which those parents happen to be in. It’s also two solid performances from Clarke and Seimetz that breathe life into these characters and make that danse macabre of morality worthwhile.
Where Kölsch & Widmyer are slightly less confident, is the actual horror.
The out-of-the-blue intro, which builds zero anticipation, foreshadows the problems with the scariness of “Pet Sematary”. Long story short – It’s an admirable effort to reject cheap jump scares and rely solely on the creepiness of the audiovisual experience, but Kölsch & Widmyer aren’t, regrettably, half as good in world building as some of their fellow filmmakers. As a consequence, “Pet Sematary” indulges in its double-barreled psychology, but finds little scares.
To be fair, there are moments of bliss here and there though. Moments, when “Pet Sematary” crawls under your skin and chills your blood. I was petrified when Rachel’s sister was revealed for the first time, and nobody should complain about the tremendous set design in the forest and beyond either. But fright, even when it shows up on the surface, is never sustained, or evenly paced to make the heart beat faster. The film’s emotional weight takes time to be conjured, and that leaves Kölsch & Widmyer with fewer ideas for scares than one could hope for.
In other words, those creepy kids from the poster won’t haunt your dreams, so you can sleep tight.
At the end of the day, there is depth in what Kölsch & Widmyer try to touch upon, which is more rewarding than any typical frigthfest. It’s not the screening that’s dreadful on its own, but the thoughts and questions you’ll be left with that draw you to some dark places.
Pet Sematary (2019)
Dir. Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer
Hate Grade: 3/10