An unwritten rule in Hollywood, and one that is seldom followed through on, is that a remake is supposed to be better than its predecessor. Think about “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Psycho,” “Rollerball,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Ben-Hur.” Who gave the greenlight to those stinkers? Of course, it’s gone the other way, too. There were terrific remakes of “A Star Is Born,” “The Fly,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and “Ocean’s Eleven.”
The good news about “Pet Sematary,” a remake of the 1989 adaptation of the Stephen King novel, is that it stands firmly on that second list. While the first film was pretty good but not memorable, the new version, creepy from frame one and subliminally unsettling throughout, is going to excite and please the horror crowd and could be responsible for inducing a few nightmares among the general audience.
It’s the opening credits that are creepy, both in sight and sound, displaying the aftermath of some blood-spattered event, but doing so in a sort of subtle manner. Yes, this is a full-out horror film, and there are some gruesome and grisly scenarios. But it’s not a gross-out slasher film. Co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer have kept it tastefully horrific (a phrase I just made up).
Louis (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their two young kids Ellie and Gage, and their cat Church have just left the city life, where he was an overworked ER doctor, for a new home in bucolic Ludlow, Maine, where he’s to be a doctor in a small-town hospital, and life can slow down a bit.
They’re a happy family, though because this is Stephen King territory, and there’s got to be something off kilter somewhere, it’s soon revealed that Rachel has been having recurring nightmares about her childhood, when her disease-stricken sister died in agony, filling Rachel with fear and a sense of guilt. Maybe things will change with this move. Louis is certainly enjoying the new slower pace. Little Gage is wrapped up in his own world, and older sister Ellie (Jeté Laurence) is an outgoing kid who enjoys exploring the large wooded area on their property.
Which is where she discovers the old “Pet Sematary,” where people have buried their animals for as long as anyone can recall, and where she meets their friendly but lonely widower neighbor Jud (John Lithgow).
I’m not going to reveal a lot of what happens here because even though a lot of people saw the original film, and the King book was a huge success, there are plenty of folks who won’t know what they’re getting into, or at least to what depths of horror they’re going to descend (or heights they’re going to climb).
Here’s a tidbit of what’s in store. The family’s new home is right by a busy highway. Church the cat is killed (off-camera) by a truck. The parents want to shield Ellie from the harsh news, so plan to tell her that Church ran away. Then Louis and helpful Jud bring Church to the pet sematary ... but Jud is just too darn helpful. He convinces Louis to come with him, beyond the sematary, deeper into the woods, where strange noises are heard, and where Church can be buried in a “special” area.
No stories have to be told to Ellie, because Church is back the next day, looking a little gnarly, and with a change in, let’s say, attitude. And causing hackles to stand up on necks of people in the film and audiences watching. Louis is a man of science, and can’t figure out what’s going on. Till he’s told by Jud. Soon after, there’s a much worse accident on that road, and the family is devastated. Soon after that, there’s another, much more consequential, trek to the deeper woods. What we’ve got here is a movie filled with good, smart people making very bad decisions.
The final 20 minutes are totally unnerving. Watching, and caught up under the spell of it, viewers are going to be wondering, “Can this situation get any worse?” To which I’ll answer, “Oh, yeah!”
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by Jeff Buhler; directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
With Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence, John Lithgow