Released almost exactly 30 years to the day since the original film hit screens, “Pet Sematary,” starring Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz as a couple who discover a mysterious burial ground in the woods near their new home, is a remake of one of Stephen King’s scariest novel adaptations. The 1989 movie was so scary King, the master of all things terrifying, says it was the only one of his films that genuinely scared him. Will the remake offer up the same kind of undead thrills?
Exhausted from years as a night shift emergency room doctor in Boston Louis Creed (Clarke) is looking forward to spending more time with his family, Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), in their new, rural home in Maine. “The whgole place is ours?” asks Ellie. “I even got them to throw in a forest as a new backyard,” jokes dad. The move offers the change the family so desperately needs but then tragedy strikes when their beloved family cat Church is flattened by a truck on the country road in front of their home.
Their helpful neighbour Judd Crandall (John Lithgow) suggests they bury the cat in a secret spot known as the “Pet Sematary.” Local folklore has it that the eerie burial ground has supernatural powers. “Kids used to dare each other to go into the woods at night,” says Crandall. “They feared it.” The Creeds soon learn there may be some truth to the legends when Church comes back but this time he isn’t so cute and cuddly. “There is something in those woods,” Crandall says. “Something that brings things back. Sometimes dead is better.” (SPOILER ALERT) Later when the stakes are raised, and daughter Ellie is killed, the limits of Louis’s love are tested.
Horrifying things happen in “Pet Sematary.” Undead filicide, patricide and lives taken too soon but as awful as some of things that happen on screen are, the movie isn’t scary. The idea of much of what happens will send a shiver down your spine but the actual rendering of it doesn’t. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been desensitized by “The Walking Dead” but the idea of the dead coming back to malevolent life doesn’t have much of an impact here. There are some jump scares but they are more uncomfortable than actually chilling.
As a study of grief it works better. Louis’s extreme actions are driven by anguish but because so much of what happens feels generic it’s hard to care about any of the characters, alive or dead. Like the pallid cover of the title song The Ramones made famous in 1989, the new film is a pale imitation of the original.