I’ve been hesitant in past years getting my hopes up for films that are in some way a remake, reboot, or sequel. I guess I’m just tired of watching the same movie replayed in the same ways as before only with a lack of imagination. Enter Pet Sematary, a 1989 movie (adapted from a best-selling novel by Stephen King) that many people have fond memories of, myself not as much. It’s been over a decade since I watched it, but I vividly remember Pet Sematary being both corny and quirky. And maybe it wasn’t the greatest movie in the world, but was quite memorable for what it was. However, I thought this time around the film could be updated and transformed into a modern horror classic. looking back, I may have been a tad too optimistic.
Pet Sematary stars Jason Clarke as Louis Creed, a doctor who moves his family to the rural Maine countryside to “get away from it all”. He meets his new neighbor Jud (John Lithgow), who tells of a strange Pet “Sematary” on his property with unheard-of powers: raising the dead. After a family tragedy leaves Louis and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) in a state of shock, he does the unthinkable and uses the cemetery’s powers to raise the dead. But, at what cost?
There’s a few bait-and-switches in Pet Sematary that turn our expectations upside down, especially for those thinking this would be a carbon copy of the original film. We’re so used to remakes playing out exactly like the original beat for beat that this film took that information and used it to its advantage. There’s also some decent acting from the cast, which give some emotional weight to the family’s misfortunes.
Pet Sematary seemed to jump the gun in many ways, as we’re force fed lots of information in the first act that doesn’t leave for as much tension in the climax. Unfortunately, a lot of that falls on the shoulders of John Lithgow’s character, who acts as the audience’s field guide throughout the whole film. Only, we didn’t need someone explaining all this information because the plot is incredibly simple already. It isn’t Shutter Island, we’ve got this. I think they tried hitting that sweet spot of exposition where they don’t overexplain the phenomena, but they don’t leave the audience scratching their heads in confusion either. This attempt was in vain as the whole premise is given away very early on, demystifying the magic and therefore the horror. Even those who haven’t seen the first Pet Sematary will know exactly what’s going to happen.
The end of Pet Sematary kind of leaves the audience hanging in limbo, as the film felt like it was building to something a little more enthralling than what we actually got. The movie firmly establishes these themes of death, mourning, and the afterlife that ultimately lack any sort of conclusion. Which makes you wonder why so much time was dedicated to discussing these topics to begin with. Even from a slasher-nut point of view, Pet Sematary was missing the gore and special effects I was hoping to see updated and in full force. But the truth is this film hardly necessitated the R rating and could’ve easily gotten by with a PG-13.
I’d say this 2019 remake certainly sets itself apart from the 1989 Pet Sematary in that it thematically was more frightening and felt emotionally smarter. But the 2019 Pet Sematary lacks that corny charm the original embraced with open arms that makes it so much more memorable than this modern retelling. There’s no adorable little boy stabbing the lovable Fred Gwynne in the Achilles’ heel. And remember that awesome delivery by Gwynne of the line, “Sometimes dead is better”? I hate to compare the new to the old in such a way, but when remaking a film, you must put in an effort to improve upon the predecessor in more than just style. And if your remake is going to leave audiences a little disappointed, expecting something more exciting and memorable, than maybe it wasn’t worth digging this film up in the first place.
The Verdict: D+