"Pet Sematary," Stephen King's classic, frightening tale of the Creed family and a cemetery that brings the dead back to not-quite-life has already been turned into a film once before. The trailer for this latest version (out April 5) gave away a big change to the story — but few great adaptations are completely faithful. Here's what critics are saying:
The Story Starts Out The Same As It Has Before — A Move To Maine Is Disrupted By One Tragedy… Then Another
Lou Creed (Jason Clarke) moves his family to Ludlow, Maine when he's transferred from late night shifts in the ER to a campus doctor's office. At first, things are pleasant for the Creeds; Lou's wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) spends her days tending to their kids, Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), and the family bonds with their neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow)[…] After Ellie's beloved cat Church is run over and killed, Jud lets Lou in on another local secret: the pet cemetery is merely a placeholder for the ancient burial ground just beyond it, that has the power to restore life… at a terrible cost.
Church comes back. He's not the same. By now most viewers are undoubtedly familiar with how this goes: Sometimes dead is better. And yet when tragedy strikes the family again, Louis fails to adhere to this lesson.
Directors Kevin Kölsch And Dennis Widmyer Know When To Go Gory And When To Drop Scares…
The new Pet Sematary, the second film adaptation of King's 1983 novel of the same name, is at its most thrilling when it follows the same unwavering dedication to terror as the source text and the original film. On the gore and jump-scare front, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer's film cannot be faulted.
Kölsch and Widmyer contrive some high-voltage jumps: it's very disturbing when Louis is awoken one night by weird noises from his backyard forest, then opens the door to see the moonlit trees are uncannily much closer to the property than originally appeared to be the case, crowding right up to the porch. And it's a jolt when Louis has to tend to a young student, horribly killed in a car wreck, who becomes an undead warming of Louis's own terrible future.
… And Do So While Employing Good Practical Effects And Great Cinematographic Touches
The visuals are stunning across the board but boy do Widmyer and Kölsch know how to craft a wide array of creative set pieces. Everything is beautifully shot by cinematographer Laurie Rose. There are a number of vision-related camera tricks that work exceptionally well, the coverage and timing of the more violent scenes are spot on and significantly enhance the suspension and tension, and when it comes to the story's big accident, they make it feel truly epic.
The body horror and physical distortions of Rachel's sister Zelda (Alyssa Brooke Levine) are also a wicked wonder. Kölsch and Widmyer stray from saturated jump scares and CGI in order to enhance trepidation and dread through effective camera work and creepy production design courtesy of Todd Cherniawsky. Even the fog that seeps into the pet sematary at night is symbolic for the way grief can cloud one's sensible state of mind. There is also a looming and magnetic draw resulting from the selective use of framing that reflects not only the loss of a loved one, but the tendency for trauma and grief to stalk our memories indefinitely.
Jason Clarke Makes A Good Case For Doing More Horror…
Clarke in particular feels the most like a Stephen King character come to life, a grieving father relentlessly traumatized and driven to near-madness. It feels like his moment may finally be here, in a role that matches his talents and proves his horror bonafides.
Clarke brings an everyman quality to the part of Louis, although he seems to really come alive in the back half of the movie, when his character goes to some dark places. The actor's natural Australian accent also has a bad habit of slipping out from time to time, which can be a bit distracting.
… While Amy Seimetz Makes The Most And Then Some Out Of Rachel's Expanded Role
It feels as though the script is designed for Louis to assume the "main protagonist" designation but whenever Seimetz is on screen, she commands every ounce of your attention with undying dedication to her family and ultimately, fully tapping into the sheer nightmare that threatens to consume it.
Seimetz's performance is gripping, and her spiral through sadness and trauma is purely gut-wrenching.
The Film Goes To Contemplative And Dark Places
The rest of the pic is strongest when it lets its very fine cast explore the difficulties their characters already have along with the ones they're hiding from each other. Not everybody knows about this place of rebirth; not everybody would agree to use it if they knew. And there's a compelling mix of fear and poignancy in the reunion of a surviving family member and one who isn't quite as alive as you'd hope.
The end result is a film somehow darker than the book itself, which at one point seemed impossible. King's novel is notoriously bleak – so bleak that the writer himself felt he had gone too far when he wrote it, and originally considered throwing it away rather than publishing it. But the new Pet Sematary pushes the envelope, and then some, going further than King even dared. The fact that this is a studio film is both surprising, and thrilling. The producers have allowed Kölsch and Widmyer to go down some twisted paths, and dig up something considerably nasty.
Still, Some Critics Think The Story Changes And Pressure To Frighten Can Make Things Regrettably Goofy
The lack of underlying tension in this version of the Creed family makes most of the film's runtime rather uneventful, and undermines the story's basic premise: why would this level-headed, rational father move right next to a dangerous highway? This ridiculous premise, as well as Louis' other ill-thought out decisions, seem out of character and thus become unintentionally funny.
The macabre poignance of the first two-thirds of the film swiftly devolves into silliness, ending on a note that is neither heartbreaking nor horrific. That's a shame, given the 80 or so minutes that preceded it.
If You Like King And Love Some Of The Less-Faithful Adaptations Of His Work, You Should Give It A Shot
Buhler's script diverges greatly from King's book in ways that feel genuinely fresh. This may rile some fans, but if you kill your darlings and subscribe to the sheer madness that follows, you're in for a wicked treat. Kölsch and Widmyer's Pet Sematary is obsessed with the inevitably of death, and finds new ways to make it terrifying.
One of King's most well-known, and most terrifying works of all time, how do you approach another cinematic adaptation? Especially considering how involved King was in writing the screenplay of the first film. Well, if you're screenwriter Jeff Buhler and directors Kolsch and Widmyer, you catch the audience with their pants around their ankles. Everything you thought you knew about this familiar tale will be used against you in the most invigorating, and chilling ways.
It's a layered, deeply sinister family nightmare that, yes, is packed with scares, but also a significant amount of complexity that takes those scares well beyond fleeting thrills. Pet Sematary digs its claws in quickly, injects the threat and uncertainty of impending death in your veins, and then challenges you to hold on tight as the characters are consumed by loss, desperation and violence.