Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.
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.
Sadly on May 30th 2019 the main cat who portrayed the undead Church 'Leo' passed away. Kirk Jarrett who adopted him after filming, announced the sad news on an Instagram account dedicated to his furry friend. "It is with great sadness that we tell you that Leo has passed away. He will forever be missed by his human and fur family. May his star always shine bright." See more »
During Louis's first trip to the burial ground, some lightning is seen near the horizon. Thunder follows about a second later. The lightning appears miles distant, and the thunder would have taken much longer to reach Louis's location. See more »
Paramount Pictures Australia submitted a 98 minute version of Pet Sematary which gained an MA15+ rating. Presumably this version was pre-cut in an attempt to gain a lower M rating. As with Overlord, Paramount Pictures Australia decided to release the uncut version instead which also gained an MA15+ rating. See more »
Not bad, but not a patch on the book, and the new ending is awful
In Stephen King's celebrated oeuvre, his 1983 novel Pet Sematary (the misspelling is intentional) is something of a curio. Although reasonably well received at the time, critics have never considered it worthy of the kind of attention lavished on work such as The Shining, The Stand, The Dark Tower series, It, Misery, or The Green Mile. Fans of King, however, have long championed it as one of his most emotionally devastating and philosophically complex works, whilst King himself considers it the scariest novel he's ever written. And although on the surface, the plot is as schlocky as they come, buried underneath is an examination of grief and how it can compromise one's ability to act rationally, whilst also looking at issues such as emotional trauma, guilt, the importance of family, and the question of what happens after we die.
Written by Jeff Buhler, from an initial script by Matt Greenberg, and directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, Pet Sematary comes in the midst of something of a resurgence for the Stephen King adaptation industry. However, for me, much like It (2017), Pet Sematary doesn't really work. It's certainly better that Mary Lambert's 1989 filmic adaptation, Pet Sematary (1989), but it pales in comparison to the novel. Granted, most films suffer when compared to a source text; even Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), although a masterpiece as a standalone film, is a terrible adaptation of the novel. Pet Sematary, which relies far too heavily on jump scares, is especially disappointing in this sense insofar as it starts off very strongly, taking care to respectfully modernise the novel's themes and examine the characters' underlying emotions, before descending into absolute stupidity in the last act. Buhler also changes numerous aspects of the story; some of which work very well, but many don't, with a new ending, in particular, substituting cheap shock for the lingering sense of psychological hopelessness with which King's original so memorably concludes.
Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), a doctor from Boston, moves to the town of Ludlow, Maine with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their eight-year-old daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), three-year-old son Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie), and Ellie's beloved cat, Church. In the woods surrounding their house, Ellie finds a pet cemetery, but is cautioned against exploring further by their friendly neighbour, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow). Several weeks later, Louis and Jud find Church dead, and Jud, who has grown very close to Ellie and doesn't wish to see her suffer, takes Louis to an ancient Mi'kmaq burial ground behind the cemetery, instructing Louis to bury Church. The next day, Louis is stunned when Church returns home, although considerably more aggressive than before he died. Jud explains that anything buried in that place comes back to life, although very different from how it was, with local legend suggesting that returnees are possessed or controlled by some sort of malevolent spirit. A few days later, the Creed family suffers an unspeakable tragedy, and guessing what Louis plans to do, Jud tells him not to return to the burial ground. Louis, however, has no intention of heeding his warnings.
When the film version was first revealed, there was a lot of online grumbling about the big change - it's Ellie and not Gage who is killed in the film, and whom Louis decides to bring back (if this was supposed to be a twist, someone forgot to tell the marketing people, because it's right there in the trailer). However, King himself approved the change, and personally, I think it improves the story - as in the novel, it's Ellie with whom Louis and Rachel have portentous conversations about what happens after we die, and having her be the one killed establishes a more coherent thematic through-line.
Speaking of themes, much like the novel, the film is primarily focused on grief. I've always loved King's ability to "hide" serious themes behind what are ostensibly rote horror stories (he's so good at hiding them that literary academics don't believe they're even there, refusing to afford him a place on the canon). And yes, Pet Sematary does feature a sentient zombie child, but its core is the emotional trauma suffered by Louis and how his uncontrollable grief drives him to do something unspeakable. His heartache is such that his logic centre simply stops functioning; not only does he completely accept the fact that Ellie can be brought back, but he also ignores Louis's warnings that she will not be his Ellie. Like in the book, he's a man of science, who clashes with Rachel about what to tell Ellie regarding death - she wants to talk about an afterlife, he wants to focus on the finality of death as something natural and unavoidable. This is a smart choice by King, as Louis becomes the one who refuses to let death have the final word, with his conscious mind unable to accept the random tragedy that has befallen him, and whose entire purpose in life comes to be focused on the fact that Rachel was (at least in part) correct, that there is something after death.
Rachel's arc moves in the opposite direction to Louis's - she accepts the finality of Ellie's death, and reacts in horror when she learns what her husband has done. Her arc is rendered more complex insofar as she also suffers crippling guilt because of the death of her sister Zelda (Alyssa Brooke Levine) when they were still children, for which she blames herself. Whereas Louis's arc is more concerned with the question of what it takes for a rational man to abandon everything he knows to be unassailably true about the nature of existence, Rachel's looks at questions of survivor guilt and how one is supposed to come back from having one's life shattered (of course, it's the very fact that Rachel had this early-life trauma that gives her the tools with which to cope with Ellie's death).
For about two-thirds of the runtime, the film deals reasonably convincingly with these issues. Sure, it moves faster than the novel, but that's more to do with the nature of medium than anything else. Whereas Kubrick largely ignored the themes of alcoholism and abuse in The Shining, Kölsch and Widmyer go in the opposite direction - grief and guilt are really the only things on which they focus. At least up to the point when they seem to forget about them entirely, as the third act descends into a ridiculously campy series of murders, attempted murders, and all round violence.
The last half-hour or so is as superficial and immature as anything in any King adaptation, and the new "twist" ending not only doesn't work on its own terms, it completely undercuts both King's original themes, and how well the film itself had handled those themes earlier on, replacing King's bleakly poetic dénouement with something right out of "horror clichés for dummies". I've no problem with filmmakers altering the end of a literary adaptation; the finale of Frank Darabont's The Mist (2007), for example, is completely different from King's novel, but it replicates the spirit of the original. However, the whole point of the end of the novel is that Louis has learned nothing from his experience bringing Gage back. The tragedy is that, lost in madness and despair, he repeats his mistakes. The end of the film has none of this, with the final shot more of a silly "dun-dun-duuuun" moment.
Another problem is something common to many films - an overly idealised family; much more so than in the novel, the Creeds are a picture postcard family, where everybody just loves everybody else so much, dad is always cracking jokes, sister hates annoying little brother (but loves him really), and parents talk to their kids like they're already fully grown adults. Another problem is that Ellie doesn't just get hit by a truck, she's flattened by a tanker, but when Louis picks her body up, she's still whole, and when we see her in the coffin, there's literally not a mark on her. Why make the crash so spectacular when the body has to be intact for the rest of the movie?
The film also leaves out almost all of the backstory and mythology of the burial ground and the role of the Wendigo (an evil necromantic spirit spoken of in Algonquin folklore); Louis sees a picture of the Wendigo in a book, but it's unnamed, and later, he thinks he sees something in the distance of the fog-shrouded forest, but that's as close as we ever get to it.
As a novel, Pet Sematary is a study of grief and childhood trauma first, a horror narrative second. Investigating our psychological reaction to death, the book probes how far we might go to ensure a loved one never leaves us. As a film, Pet Sematary seems to be charting a similar course, until it abandons this tack in favour of a shock-for-shock's sake ending. Much like It: Chapter One, there is an over-reliance on predictable and silly jump scares, and ultimately, what could have been a mature and emotionally affecting story gives in to the worst excesses of the genre, betraying both itself and the original novel.
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