My review of the new “Pet Sematary” remake will be pretty short, because, for most of the movie, I was unable to take notes as I needed to use my hands to cover my eyes. It will also have many spoilers, but I’m only a little bit sorry because the novel and original film have been around since before most of y’all reading this were born! But anyway, on to the review!
“Pet Sematary” is the newest Stephen King adaptation-remake to hit theaters, with the new and improved story of the Creed family who move to a quiet little town in Maine that just so happens to be right next door to an Ancient Indian Burial Ground, which just so happens to bring things back from the dead. If all horror is shaped by our anxieties about life, “Pet Sematary” was certainly created to dredge up all of our fears about death and what comes after. From the moment the two Creed parents disagree about whether or not to introduce the concept of an afterlife to their young daughter Ellie, it’s evident that any creepy post-life shenanigans going on in this film are born from our aversion to having frank conversations about the reality and certainty of one-day ceasing to live.
The fact that Louis and Rachel ultimately choose to shelter Ellie from “the truth,” or whatever their creepy neighbor means by that, is ultimately what drives the girl to rage once she comes face to face with death herself. Even then, Louis, who we thought was the voice of reason, decides that the idea of death is too much for the now-dead girl, who has literally been to hell and back, and refuses to tell her what happened when she asks. Over the course of the film, Ellie transforms from a suffering resurrected soul into the personification of death’s certainty, angry, invisible and screaming to be set free. She seems to agree with the ominous words of resident creepy old man Jud Crandall: “Sometimes dead is better.”
The film’s primary issues come from its terrible pacing and lack of character backstory. First of all, by the time the exposition ends, there’s about five minutes of carnage and then the movie ends. Although the remake has made a multitude of major changes from the original novel, this was one aspect of the book they decided to keep. The amount of time they spend on the dead cat could easily have been spent on the dead girl, or the dead wife, or even the creepy child parade or dramatic close-ups on the wounds of poor Victor Pascow. Furthermore, Louis, the man we’re supposed to follow and root for, has next to nothing when it comes to backstory; his wife, Rachel, who has the benefit of having borne witness to the traumatic “sister in the dumbwaiter” flashbacks, makes much more sense in her assurances that they needn’t talk about death to their children at all, that it’s unnatural and life-ruining — ha. However, all we can glean about Louis’s atheistic worldview is that, well, he’s a doctor, so he has seen a lot of death. Kind of boring if you ask me.
I do have to admire this movie in the repurposing of classic horror tropes, like the happy family moving to a new house stereotype and the surprise ancient tribal burial ground narrative. It seems as if those local tribes must have all conveniently mysteriously fled so that an oblivious horror family could move in and start resurrecting their pets, but at least all the stupid, stupid decisions in this movie can be attributed to the supernatural pull of the place. They definitely stick to the source material in the things that matter, but as it turns out, which Creed child was resurrected actually didn’t make that much of a difference in the story. Perhaps they thought they could get a better performance out of the little girl than the baby, and hey, they would have been right. Good job, Jeté Laurence. You pretty much scared me senseless there.
But back to the ancient tribal burial ground, and more importantly, the source of this overwhelming evil presence in “Pet Sematary”: the wendigo. “Supernatural” says the wendigo is what you turn into when you become a cannibal, while the novel form of “Pet Sematary” says that the wendigo is a monster that walks through your campsite during harsh winters, touching people and giving them a taste for human flesh. Both are equally valid interpretations in my opinion — in fact, for the sake of this theory, consider them both to be true — as cannibalism is, of course, the quintessential desire to harm your own people and to relish the harm you cause in the most despicable way. If the wendigo was indeed once human, perhaps the dead’s personalities are warped upon their return because the monster is packing away the evil parts of itself into the dead things. Maybe that’s how it replenishes its goodness before cannibalizing people again and building the Bad back up.
And after the wendigo’s Big Bad Death Cleanse, the people who return from the forest that way come back evil, yes, but with parts of their old selves retained. And maybe, just maybe, those parts of themselves are, in their own ways, trying to show their loved ones what truly “comes after,” and why they need to leave the dead be. Perhaps even Rachel, who so adamantly opposed the mere discussion of death, eventually changes her mind after experiencing it for herself.
I quite liked this movie; it had its flaws, to be sure, but there was a lot of parts that scared me to pieces — i.e. Victor Pascow, the truck rumbling by like a monster, etc. — and a lot of parts that greatly interested me — in fact, I bought the book immediately after I left the theater, and finished it right before editing this review. In the end, I leave you with three parting thoughts:
- In the Author’s Note of “Pet Sematary,” Stephen King discloses that he himself once lived next to a “Pet Sematary” — misspelling and all — with his wife, young daughter and baby son. He even buried his pet cat there.
- I enjoyed the book thoroughly, but giving away the physical copy of it after I had finished felt like an ancient and powerful curse being lifted.
- John Lithgow (Jud) plays Lord Farquaad in the “Shrek” franchise.