Horror is one of my favorite genres and has been for as long as I can remember. I think the earliest horror film I watched with my dad when I was about 4 or 5, I think was the “Fly”. It’s definitely a different type of horror film, but scary as hell none the less. And I was hooked. I craved to see everything, against my mother’s wishes of course. But, there was no denying my lust for the blood, guts, gore, and real stylized villains. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is my all-time fave and it’s because of Freddy Krueger. He’s got flare, he’s got charm and he’s got an axe to grind.
Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) is not the villain of this story and I’m not sure if he’s the hero either. He moves his family from their fast-paced life in Boston to a farmhouse in Maine. I guess that’s a common Stephen King thing. He takes up a medical position at a local college while his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) stays home to look after the kids. Maybe the rural life can help get their marriage back on track, at least that’s what we’re led to believe. Rachel and her young daughter Ellie (Jete’ Laurence) find out that their new home backs up to an infamous Pet Cemetery, which is also spelled strangely too. Somehow this was not listed as vital information when purchasing their home, but nonetheless it’s a reality they’re just going to have to cope with. Their new neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) encounters Ellie one day frolicking at the cemetery and tends to her leg as she had a little accident climbing some sort of barrier. After the awkward introduction between he and Rachel, the Creeds extend an invitation to him for dinner. Louis seems to ignore the fondness this creepy old man has towards his daughter as a neglectful father should.
I know, I may seem harsh, but I’m getting there.
Being in this new place brings about some peculiar occurrences that happen to the Creed family. A gruesome car crash springs Dr. Creed in to action as he hopelessly tries to save a young man, Victor Pascaw (Obssa Ahmed) who’s brain is spilling out the side of his skull and is gushing blood everywhere after a bad car accident. A little later Louis is visited by Victor… alive…but still very much dead and bloody, warning him about something rather ominously. Louis is visited many more times throughout the story and each visit is more peculiar and more supernatural in nature; but why? Rachel on the other hand, is reliving memories of her past trying to cope with the traumatic death of her sister Zelda who endured horrifying years of spinal meningitis that is wild and grotesque. Its later revealed Rachel is riddled with guilt as she feels responsible for her sister’s accidental death.
Death is the main through line of this story. How our characters deal with it or don’t. Its death that is the catalyst to the story as well. The family cat “Church” is a demonic looking Maine Coon Cat from the beginning. He’s found dead outside the Creed’s home by Jud. Louis unsure of how to tell their daughter, as they’re incredibly close; takes some bad advice from Jud and meets up with him a little later that night to bury Church in the Pet Cemetery.
However, Jud suggests they go a little further just beyond the cemetery to another place to bury the him. A little further my ass. Without question, Louis walks and climbs and hikes, what seems to be over a mile to an Indian burial ground of sort and is instructed by Jud to bury Church with the dirt from the ground and the love in his heart and wait till the morning. That’s it. Literally, without question he returns home.
Luis told his daughter Church ran away earlier due to a disagreement on how the topic of death would be handled amongst the family.
Without being fleshed out further, the next morning Louis and Rachel visit Ellie to see how she’s doing. To their surprise, it’s back. Jason checks in with Jud next door and he reveals to Jason the rumors of the cemetery are true. He’s tried it himself and while his results were less than ideal, he was willing to try one more time with Church, because of how close to his death he was.
Yeah, sounds like a stretch and it played like that on screen, but the film does just enough to get you to loosely buy in and continue the ride. Like a classic horror film with an evil cat; this demon spawn does weird cat stuff, which really freaks me out to the point where Louis must get rid of him. Rachel’s struggles with her own grief, Louis’ increasingly frequent and horrifying Victor visits, and this cat’s pension for doing some really weird stuff with his kids he decides against just killing the cat, he would drive him far from their home and abandon him.
It’s now Ellies 9th birthday. A game of Marco Polo goes horribly wrong when Church makes a special appearance at the party leading Ellie into the busy highway allowing for absent minded Louis to rush after Gage (Hugo Lavoie), oh yeah, the little brother who we often forget about in this movie; chasing after them both and only able to save one.
A poorly rendered semi-truck falls apart crashing into Ellie yet only throwing her a couple of yards away from the accident. The family is mortified at the loss of their young daughter and on her birthday no less. Trying to cope, the family agrees to leave behind the crazy farm life. Rachel and Gage head to her parents, while Louis stays back to finalize some things. Alone with his sorrow and guilt and several bottles of alcohol, Dr. Creed drugs his neighbor Jud, heads to Ellie’s grave, digs her up one stormy night, carries her body to the mystical burial ground behind the pet cemetery and re-buries her. Not much later that night, Ellie returns. After a quick and vomit educing bath they sleep.
Rachel still not keeping it together is further freaked by the intensified nightmares of her sister; races back to Maine to be with her husband who’s shamefully forwarding his calls. To her surprise when she gets back, Ellie is there with her arms open. Rachel rejects the little girl and gets awarded with a demon clapback “It’s ok, I don’t want her here either.” Insanity ensues as Jud is playfully murdered by this little girl and then gets his house burned down, but not before being haunted by his dead wife through demon possessed Ellie from the bowls of hell.
Ellie then skips across the yard back home to terrorize and murder her mom. She drags her body up and across the pet cemetery to the burial ground with the intention to resurrect her. Before dying Rachel, tosses Gage out a window to Louis who locks him in the family car. Inexplicably, Ellie is back from burying mom and pursues Louis that culminates in a one on one brawl between the 2 at the cemetery. Just when it looks like Louis has the upper hand and is a split second from bashing his undead daughter’s brains in, Rachel shoves a piece of rebar through his chest and kills him. Minutes later a glorious ending shot of the reanimated and now possessed family walk slowly towards the car that Gage is trapped in.
End. Cut to black. Cue the Ramones “Pet Sematary”.
What in the actual… … no, I’m not going to do it. I promised myself id cuss less.
This film was most certainly a trip. One, I wasn’t expecting and not sure if I’ll ever experience again. I’m not saying that “Pet Sematary” is an all-out bad film. Its definitely far from great, but probably the lowest level I can score it to recommend it. I never read the book and was too young to really remember anything of substance from the 1989 classic. I hear this film is more reboot/ adaptation of the book and not the movie. Reactions are mixed and rightfully so.
The direction in this film was going for something but left a lot on the page that never made it on screen. That can be the trouble when adapting a novel. That can be great trouble when adapting a Stephen King novel. The setup is all there. A family looking to escape city life put in a supernatural situation that they must survive.
You should know by now I’m a stickler for horror movie monsters and rules. John Lithgow’s Jud did a decent job at introducing some local lore that could explain these unnatural events. There was just enough ambiguity but something about the supernatural just didn’t seem to fit. What didn’t help was the choice to interweave Louis’ haunting with Rachel’s reliving of her past trauma. While it looked interesting onscreen it felt out of place and forced to add unnecessary drama. What about this place brings back the pain of her sister’s death to the point of illusions and mania.
There’s a disconnect in our villain’s intentions that under serve its goals. Typically, in horror films like this the Movie Monster is injected to teach a real-life lesson. A vessel to dispense justice against a singular or group of perpetrators. The Creed’s haven’t done anything wrong. Could be a case of wrong place at wrong time but there’s ample opportunity in this small town to deliver terror. So why now?
The visuals in this film for the most part work well to distract you from what the script is lacking. This world directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer is stylized, but also feels like it could be happening right here and now. Until we get past the Pet Cemetery and there’s a hellacious swampland, entrenched in thick fog and constant lightning bolts that cascade the sky.
Yeah, so the VFX could’ve been better. When Louis and Jud make their way up to the burial ground the whole scene looked to be shot on a B-Movie green screen sound stage. That shift in look takes you out of the practical atmospheric elements that were working well visually. The cinematography is nothing out of this world, but the camera does a good job at driving the tension and the suspense. It’s kind of weird. I can tell when a cheap jump scare was coming but the way the story flowed, and the camera moved it still got me. There were several shots when you thought one was going to come and then you were totally psyched out and it gave it to you right after.
The whole cast was strong in this movie performance wise and did well with what they were given. Jason Clarke during his “Drunken Dead Daughter Grave dig up,” was giving everything you could ask for from a man who is at his lowest in this set of circumstances. Uniquely, the selection of score in that scene was the perfect touch where as in most of the film is absent. The choice to remove those ambient interludes was the right choice which allowed the scenes to fully envelope. Thing is, we were only consumed with what we were seeing, as the script didn’t have you invested enough in the characters and what happens to them.
Most of “Pet Semetary” strings together interesting looking shots that are very surface level. The below average script anchored to a villain that’s not all that fleshed like all the other characters in the film makes this the type of Popcorn Horror film that plays OK on a "Date Night," but falls short to impact the genre in an elevated way. KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 6/10
Directors: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writer: Jeff Buhler, Matt Greenberg
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete’ Laurence
Run Time: 101 mins