Pet Sematary (2019)

Although tone-corrected with bite, murky fogset production design, and some clever rewrites, this reboot of King’s pet-centered tale is somehow worse than Lambert’s 1989 original. It’s time to take this series behind the barn now. 3/10.

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. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbour Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Official CLC Review

Sometimes dead is better. That is certainly the case with this reboot as lifeless as the subjects it reanimates. Although Lambert’s 1989 original had its faults and was middling on the Stephen King scale of great film adaptations (amidst legendary genre entries like Kubrick’s The Shining and Muschietti’s 2017 It), it was fine and mostly served its purpose. When they announced it was being rebooted 30 years later with names like Jason Clarke and all the technological and make-up advancements of modern film the original could have sorely used – especially in its final act – I was extremely optimistic. However, what we were delivered is a junk pile dead on arrival that is actually going backwards and worse than its predecessor. I think it’s time to finally take this series behind the barn and put an end to it once and for all.

There are so many things it gets wrong. The opening of the film is extremely weak being a single predictive shot instead of a wowing opening sequence indicative of the modern horror genre most, if not all, entries in modern horror are starting to cash in on a briliant and competitive way to show off/tease the film’s central premise with a white-knuck;ed scare that’s often its best scene – like 2017’s It did spectacularly with its now-iconic Georgie sailboat scene. It would have been far better to show a scene of a pet or reanimated corpse coming back and slasher-ly getting some poor owner than a shot of a.. door.. From there, it’s only downhill. Gone is a lot of the supernatural/existential analysis and deliberation of the first film, simply chalking the imaginative horror premise of bringing things back from the dead and all the possibilities and questions that raises to “something weird’s going on.” In doing so, it neglects the franchise’ most important, if not only, selling point: death/afterlife discourse, that even if you’re disappointed in the scares itself, can at least leave you exiting the theater having been made to think philosophically for a bit.

The visuals are equally as dull and lifeless with this absolutely bizarre bleak grunge-filtered dark lens the film was evidently shot with. It becomes a serious visual task to even see what is going on half the time; I understand they were perhaps going for nihilism or wanting the dark visuals to make the tone seem even darker, but what we get is an eye-sore just as ugly to look at as a brain-showing reanimated cat. Finally, the film is short-changed in length, opening up a whole new can of worms as a result. It doesn’t give its actors nearly enough room to breathe or strut their abilities, ending up to the cast showing glimpses through the muck but overall being wasted – especially Jason Clarke. If anything, Clarke has shown an extreme ability to portray heartbroken grief, as he did in The Great Gatsby as Myrtle’s husband before that iconic shot in the pool. The fact that he was not able to show more emotion after the central death scene in the film, especially given its nature in relationship to him, is a travesty and lacks the emotional gravitas that might’ve tipped this over the edge into fresh. It also cops out on its potentially brilliant Jud-poison rewrite, the Ellie actress is absolutely awful and not scary enough in the ending with cheesy lines like “you cow” as well as weak dead-looking make-up I am shocked is only marginally better than the original despite 30 years of advanced resources, and the family ending pretty jarring and closure-deprived (what happens now? At least in the original, everyone and Dr. Creed got what they deserved in the end).

The new Pet Sematary does have some pluses. The aura is dramatically darker and tone-corrected from its predecessor’s somewhat topsy-turvy atmospherics. It has bite and is the tonal grating a film with a subject matter as dark as this deserved. This mirrors the cinematography and set pieces that are simply wowing: fogset, starkly mystifying, and primordially intriguing like the new barrier and downright-chilling Sematary itself (my hats off to the production designers who definitely did their job and delivered master-level work). Jason Clarke does well as was to be expected in the central role too, delivering a more weary and dark-tripped Dr. Louis Creed that’s a highlight and more believably matching to the character’s breaking psyche. Finally, the filmmakers do make a couple of clever rewrites and surprises like the truck victim-switch and resultantly better (more believable) child choice to come back and wreak havoc post-Sematary, Jud-handling, Hell-inclusion in its end banter, and more fleshed out Rachel spine-scare arc with a few decent jump scares.

Overall though, the new Pet Sematary is an overwhelming disappointment. Even withstanding its tone-correction, murky fogset production design, and a few clever rewrites, it is visually-disastrous, cut short on the chopping block in length, restricted in actors’ abilities, deprived of the original’s afterlife-existentialism, ill-cast besides Clarke, and weakly begun and ended. It is somehow worse than Lambert’s original that wasn’t that great to begin with, even after being made 30 years later which is a near blasphemous stat with all the exponentially better movie-making resources it had over its predecessor. Like Church’s refusal to die, it’s finally time to put this series to an end once and for all. Burn it, lock it up, anything – just stop the madness and make sure it stays dead for the sake of moviegoers and horror fans everywhere.

Official CLC Score: 3/10