Anyone who knows me knows that I hate the first adaptation of “Pet Sematary” from 1989 as well as its sequel. I think the first version is silly, exploitative, and looks more like a cheap TV movie than anything. It also sets up so many plot elements and a mythology that it never clarifies or resolves. While the new version of Stephen King’s novel “Pet Sematary” also never quite answers all of the nagging questions, it at least adds a brand new logic to it, giving many of the characters motivations for their irrationality. There’s also an explanation as to the allure of the pet sematary and why it’s stayed up for generations.
Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children Gage and Ellie. The couple soon discovers a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home, it’s a generations old, sacred ground with a dark history. When tragedy strikes the Creeds, Louis turns to his neighbor Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes a cruel evil with horrific consequences that Louis will have to confront.
Despite side stepping a lot of the original film’s brutality, “Pet Sematary” gets a much needed reworking, taking what works from King’s original novel and making it flow better on screen. The new version from directors Kevin Kolsch, and Dennis Widmyer give the new version a much needed sense of dread and all consuming sadness that make the confrontation with death and grief unforgiving and relentless. When we meet the Creed family, they’re a fragile unit adjusting to their unusual settings in Maine. Once they discover the pet sematary accidentally, a lot of their existence relies on the inevitability of one of them creeping in to the sacred grounds and defying death. There’s a real rotten core in the new narrative, making the whole world that the Creeds are in bleak and unforgiving.
Even when they’re experiencing rare moments of happiness, it’s peppered with the idea that it’ll be very fleeting. Much of the Creeds’ whole lives revolve around demons haunting them, with dad Louis Creed being given messages from a patient who suffered a horrific death before his eyes. Wife Rachel is also haunted by the long slow death of her sister Zelda whose disfiguring disease instilled in her guilt, and horror that she’d suffer the same fate. Most of all the specter of death is what creeps in to this family’s lives, and Louis soon becomes consumed with the urge to defy it for the sake of keeping this fragile family moving along. Once the Creeds meet Jud and Louis decides to bury his cat Church in the Sematary, events spiral out of control very quickly.
Like the Creeds, the audience is kept at almost immediate reach from the idea of death, injecting the feeling helplessness. The way the new version completely re-works the concept of the cursed Sematary and the way it revives the dead is demented, and often times incredible perverse. One moment in particular involving a bath is absolutely grotesque, especially in the way it revels in the grim reality of what Louis has done. “Pet Sematary” is infinitely superior to Mary Lambert’s 1989 horror drama, accomplishing mounting terror, and a bleak tone that never quite feels manipulative. If I have any complaint is that the film could have managed with ten more minutes as the narrative feels abrupt in its closure. That said, “Pet Sematary” is a dark, creepy, and bang up retelling of the King novel, and one I intend to watch again.