Pet Sematary review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The new Pet Sematary could have taken one of two paths in the current age of commercial horror. It could have taken the darker path trying to stage a slow and building sensation of grief, where we truly feel the loss of loved ones that we’re compelled to feel the pain of not saying goodbye, eventually leading into the gruesome. Or it could go the goofy route of jumpscares, subversions, and slasher elements more silly than sincere. Which do you think will make more money?
It’s rare that we should expect modern horror remakes to be anything less than a roller-coaster of spookiness and Pet Sematary falls right in line. The story follows the Creed family and their escape from the busier city life for a more peaceful life in the countryside that’ll be anything but. Living out in the middle of nowhere, they don’t suspect their extended backyard houses sour soil that, when the dead buried, causes corpses to rise from the grave. There are plenty of warnings for them, from a giant dam to a creepy kid burial parade to the old man harbinger Jud played well by John Lithgow. And in case that weren’t enough, there are also ghosts haunting up their home with personal spirits and warnings from the recently deceased.
But Jud figures that maybe this time will be different. He had to put his dog down the last time he tried the whole resurrection thing but, hey, maybe it was a bad dog to begin with. The father of Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) seems like a nice enough guy despite his lack of belief in the afterlife. The wife of Rachel (Amy Seimetz) seems well-meaning despite her troubled past coming back to literally haunt her. And their kids are sweet, from the chipper and inquisitive daughter to the cute toddler son. Maybe they’ll be the ones to finally break the curse of dead bodies coming back as undead killing machines.
It’s not that a story like this couldn’t effective; it’s just that the mad-dash to all the blood and frights doesn’t warrant its setup. Jud seems to spend only two scenes with the daughter Ellie and one scene with her cat to be fully convinced a zombie cat is a good idea. There’s later the death of one of the kids and it’s only after Jud’s warped reasoning that this time will be different that Louis decides to take the dead-raising plunge. All of this proceeds so briskly that the whole ordeal is somewhat laughable in the first act before becoming completely laughable in the second with lots of reaction shots and vicious stabbings.
There are some highlights of this farce. I’m proud to report that this may be some of the finest acting I’ve seen out of Jason Clarke in a motion picture, perfectly suited for shocked reactions and a tender nature. Amy Seimetz is not too shabby either for a woman genuinely disturbed but she’s so great with her little B-story of ghosts from her past terrifying her family life that she feels like she’s in a whole other horror movie. Credit should be given to Jeté Laurence as the creepy kid who gets in most of the bloody slashings and John Lithgow is so great as a creep harbinger he feels underused in this film.
Pet Sematary comes with all the bells and whistles of a standard horror template that borders on comedy. The subversion of the speeding truck is hilarious for its many fakeouts, the burial ground comes assembled with a fine mist and thunder in the background, and the ending is more worthy of awkward laughter than genuine terror. I can’t blame the film for knowing how to play to a midnight crowd but trying to stage this type of horror around loss and grief feels a little awkward for a ride we’ve been on once before.