Pet Sematary – The Soil Is Still Stony, If Not Quite So Rich

By Ezra Stead

Pet Sematary, USA, 2019

Directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer

I would never recommend reading a movie review without having first seen the movie in question for yourself, but I would also never dream of spoiling the plot of a movie I review without providing a fair warning. So if you are somehow unfamiliar with the basics of Pet Sematary (come on, you’ve had thirty years to see the original movie, and thirty-five to read the book – what are you even doing with your life?), consider this your warning to stop right here and rectify that.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the latest incarnation of Pet Sematary is quite good overall. It carefully treads the line of showing reverence to the source material (both Stephen King‘s novel and Mary Lambert’s original adaptation) without being slavishly faithful. So, while fans of the original movie will enjoy little Easter eggs like the truck driver being distracted at a crucial moment by a phone call from “Sheena,” for example (the trucker who runs Gage over in the original is listening to The Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” at the time), they can also be surprised by the changes that have been made to the original storyline, most of which are in the right spirit and add interesting dimensions to the original material.

If you’ve seen even the trailer for this latest version, you know that one of the major changes filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (and screenwriters Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler) have made is the substitution of nine-year-old Ellie Creed (Jete Laurence) for her much younger brother Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, who look remarkably similar to Miko Hughes when he played the role thirty years ago) as the child who is killed in the road by that careless trucker. This is an interesting alteration because, while we don’t get Gage saying “No fair,” and stumbling delightfully to his demise after his father puts his reanimated ass down, Ellie’s more advanced intellect and speaking abilities make her a more formidable adversary when she comes back from the grave.

One example of this is the way she uses the guilt felt by her mother, Rachel (Amy Seimetz) over the death of her older sister, Zelda (Alyssa Levine). This guilt is likewise forefronted due to circumstances tweaked a bit from the original material; in this version, Zelda’s death was still not actually Rachel’s fault, but she is a bit more culpable than in previous incarnations. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) is also more at fault for the death of his child here, due to his failure to put the reanimated Church the cat (simultaneously cuter and creepier than in the 1989 version) to sleep after playing God with the help of neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow, doing his best with the impossible task of replacing Fred Gwynne’s gloriously iconic rendition). All this added guilt is wonderfully true to the spirit and themes of King’s work.

What this latest version is lacking is a lot of the heart of the novel, much of which did make it into Lambert’s film (adapted for the screen by King himself). The sort of surrogate father-son relationship between Louis and Jud, for example, is largely excised in favor of a streamlined, efficient plotting that focuses more on the scares. Likewise the strained relationship between Louis and his father-in-law is reduced from an ugly fistfight at his son’s (in this case, daughter’s) funeral service to just a dirty look, which weakens the family dynamics present in both this element and the Louis-Jud relationship. It’s a shame, especially, that the always reliable Lithgow isn’t given more interesting stuff to do, but it is commendable the way this movie seems determined to keep things relatively swift and relentless. The ending is far from disappointing, too, reminiscent of Frank Darabont’s King adaptation The Mist in its ruthless brutality. As it should be.

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’ Ezra is also a writer, rapper, and occasional painter who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City, where he is working on his second novel (the first has yet to be published).

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