I come as cold as a corpse to the story of Pet Sematary. It’s a part of the Stephen King canon I have yet to read, I never did get around to seeing its 1989 predecessor, and it’s far from my favorite song by The Ramones. I had no expectations here. All I knew is that it involved family grief, an Indian burial ground (never my favorite horror trope), and that the great Fred Gwynne was in the movie.
Pet Sematary (2019)
Directors: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writers: Stephen King, Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler
Notable Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie
Plot: Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and their two children, Gage and Ellie, move to a rural home where they are welcomed and enlightened about the eerie ‘Pet Sematary’ located nearby. After the tragedy of their cat being killed by a truck, Louis resorts to burying it in the mysterious pet cemetery, which is definitely not as it seems, as it proves to the Creeds that sometimes, dead is better. (Source: iMDB)
Commentary: I am mixed on Pet Sematary 2019. It isn’t that the actors were bad. John Lithgow is a natural for the folksy, wise older men characters ubiquitous in King novels, but he could have used more scenes and better scripting. I could have stood for a little more range from Jason Clarke as the patriarch of the family, who makes a very, very bad decision in the throes of grief. As his wife Rachel, Amy Siemetz phones in a brittle and joyless performance.
I found the pace of the first half of the movie disconcerting. It was a slow burn without being a slow burn. We’re never settled into a sense of normalcy when the family moves into the new house to make the intrusion of the paranormal evil more effective. Ominous music pervades right away, and the bizarre reanimations and events happen almost immediately. Yet it all amounted to nothing until the tragedy of child death struck the family.
I found I enjoyed the film’s second half much more. As a reanimated, malicious entity, Jete Laurence was superb and belongs in a definitive canon of creepy children. Jump scares and horror moments became much more effective and pointed, and a sense of poignancy was restored. The cinematography was nice, and we were treated to some nice shots of an eerie, Wicker Man-style masked procession, as well as the gloomy eye candy of the sematary land itself.
What We’re Afraid Of: Pet Sematary is a story about grief. As father to a five year old I certainly dreaded what eventually came to pass: the death of the couple’s daughter. But that anxiety later becomes a fear and unrecognition of your own children, a horror story as old as The Bad Seed.
Another core anxiety is the afterlife. At the start of the story, the father and mother are at a loss to explain death to Ellie, and disagree on whether or not to present her with a standard view of Heaven or an atheistic lack of life after death. When death happens, the atheistic father couldn’t accept it after witnessing supernatural resurrection.The film establishes the fact of life beyond death and it is something to dread and fear.
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