Sometimes novels are better.
For those questioning that opening statement from a website dedicated to the horror movie genre, here’s the thing… Stephen King is so immersed in my discovery of horror as a pre-adolescent male and he opened up my eyes into the world of darkness and the recesses of the human soul, whether it was through a possessed Plymouth Fury or a disturbed entity from the dawn of time that takes on the form of a killer clown. King’s universe easily slipped into the corners of my imagination and lit them up like wildfire, so to emulate these visions and project them onto the big screen would always be a tough sell for this writer.
Maybe I am warped by these Stephen King tinted spectacles that I use in every facet of my waking (and sleeping) life, but in this instance I feel that I have good reason to have the bar set high. King himself was reluctant to release his novel upon completion and described it as his darkest novel to date. The reason it was eventually published fell down to contractual reasons as King was short by one novel with his publishers and so The Creeds and their cat Church saw the light of day.
During the 80’s when King was hitting his stride, Hollywood would snap up his novels, eager to put bums on cinema seats by trying to lure in his fans and to emulate his horror in celluloid form, so it was inevitable that Pet Sematary would also be adapted into film. Mary Lambert’s vision had haunted me in my youth from its depiction of the bed-riddled Zelda to Gage’s death and return from the grave. Another strength was that it was grounded in reality partly through the set design and scenery which was meticulously detailed and shot primarily in Maine, King’s hometown, which also added a level of authenticity to it. Having said all that though, it wasn’t flawless and watching it back now, it does feel dated, so when it was announced there would be a remake, there was a twinge of excitement at the prospect of what that would look like.
Early talks were of how it would be more of an inspiration piece and take some alternate directions on its journey beyond the dead lands and back. This did not deter me though, as I was open to a fresh take on the narrative.
The results though left me wanting. Whilst I admired directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s bold attempts in adding an alternate skew, I didn’t mind the gender switch with Ellie’s untimely demise and resurrection, I found that the choices they made were more based on ‘what if we did this?’ or ‘why not do that?’ without any rhyme or reason behind decisions. What’s more, the film relied too heavily on jump scares rather than genuinely frightening moments. The overall tone of the piece was a mess and never resonated with me. For a story that is ultimately about death and grief, it was strangely lacking in powerful emotion from the characters.
Grief is such a powerful feeling and evokes a range of emotions from sadness to anger, and that void or emptiness where one wishes to be whole again is absent in this film. I wanted to experience that deep level of despair but it never materialised. In facet, death became more of a comical component in this film from the awkward conversation that Rachel and Louis have with Ellie and even Church’s presence is one that sparks horror.
There was a lot of promise at the beginning when we witness a procession for a dead dog led by a bunch of kids in creepy animal masks that sparks the imagery of an occult and the town of Ludlow, which would have a really interesting take, but this is never really touched on again, which is a real shame.
There are some standout performances from Ellie (Jete Laurence), the always magnificent John Lithgow as Judd, and I really enjoyed the character development of Rachel Creed portrayed by Amy Seimetz (You’re Next), which just fell short at the last hurdle. It would have been really interesting if she faced up to her fears of death by confronting it head on. And one of the creepiest moments was presented by Rachel’s sick-ridden sister, Zelda even if it did evoke some Samara-type behaviour in its delivery.
The rest was just white noise.
A brave attempt at taking this story in a whole new direction, but falls flat on exposition.
The horror was lacking and comical with the emotion completely stripped away, leaving an empty vessel that is soulless and inconsequential.
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