Mediocre new ‘Pet Sematary’ still better than the old one
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If only they had just buried the cat, waited six months and bought another cat.
Let’s bring the cat back to life! What could possibly go wrong?
Even in the best horror movies, smart people usually do some really dumb things — or we wouldn’t have a movie.
In the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel “Pet Sematary,” a really smart guy commits one idiotic act after another, leading to the inevitable arrival of blood and tragedy.
It makes for some frustrating moments for the viewer — especially when those dopey decisions ignite a series of events that are suitably consequential, but not particularly frightening.
Though the 2019 version of “Pet Sematary” is far superior to the tone-deaf 1989 film on just about every level, from the quality of the direction to the talent level of the cast to the production design, the issues I had with the first adaptation are still there.
Count me among the tens of millions of Stephen King fans in awe of his prolific output, which has made for a lifetime of great reads — not to mention countless classic films, from “Carrie” to “The Shining” to “Misery” to “Stand by Me” to “The Shawshank Redemption,” among others.
But after a genuinely effective and sometimes wickedly funny first 45 minutes or so, “Pet Sematary” ultimately comes across as more grisly and grotesque than scary and involving and thought-provoking.
Jason Clarke, a world-class actor who always seems to be playing characters touched by tragedy (“The Aftermath,” “Serenity,” “First Man,” “Chappaquiddick”), is once again playing a guy about to step into the pitch-black muck of fate: one Louis Creed, an ER doctor who is moving from Boston to rural Maine with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their 8-year-old daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) and their toddler son Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie).
Louis must have done pretty well as an ER doc in Boston, seeing as how their new home includes some 50 acres of thickly wooded forest.
Wait. Uh-oh. Big ol’ house in the middle of nowhere. Deep, dark misty forest all around. Here we go.
Co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Wildmyer don’t waste time in sprinkling in some classic horror-movie elements, e.g., the speeding truck whizzing by, scaring the life out of folks; a cryptic flashback alluding to a past tragedy, and the obligatory “it was only a dream — or WAS it?” moment.
Not to mention a bizarre funeral procession with kids in masks wheeling a dead dog to his final resting place. What’s up with that!
There’s a lot of talk about death among the Creed family. Little Ellie wants to know why pets don’t live as long as humans. Rachel the mom is haunted by the long, slow, terrible death of her sister. Louis says when you die, that’s it — but Rachel wants their children to believe in an afterlife.
Geez, can’t the family Creed find a night to watch a movie together and chill with the afterlife talk?
Then there’s the matter of the Creed’s only neighbor — the widower Jud (John Lithgow), who tells Louis all about the Native American legends about the property, i.e., there’s something supernatural about the nearby burial grounds.
Come on Louis. Read the room! Take a loss on the house, move the family back to Boston and take in a Red Sox game, and never again speak of the Maine Experiment.
Of course, that’s not what happens. When Church the cat is run over by a truck and killed, Rachel and Louis agree to tell their daughter Church has run away. That night, Jud leads Louis deep, deep, deeper into the woods, where Louis buries Church.
The next morning, guess who’s back home? It’s Church 2.0!
Only now he’s mean and mangy and nasty and basically a hissing zombie-cat that attacks Ellie.
But even after the disastrous rebirth of Church the cat, and even after Louis takes out the laptop and Googles the history of the property and reads all kinds of disturbing stuff, and even after he has visions of a recently deceased patient who warns him not to cross certain barriers, Louis tries to undo a family tragedy by making a return visit to the burial grounds, in the hopes of bringing someone he loves back to life.
As “Pet Sematary” devolves into zombie-slasher fare, the explorations of larger themes about spirituality and how a family deals with grief and guilt give way to nasty, borderline sadistic scenes of violence.
It’s ugly but not scary. It’s creepy but not chilling.
It’s one of the least successful adaptations of a Stephen King story since …
The last “Pet Sematary.”
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and written by Jeff Buhler, based on the novel by Stephen King. Rated R (for horror violence, bloody images, and some language). Running time: 101 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.