Movie Review: Pet Sematary

By Jordan Gerdes

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read any further, please know there is some large spoilers below, as I wanted to be as precise with my review as possible. After the jump, you are no doubt going to have something spoiled. I’m sorry. Go see it and come back.

Pet Sematary is one of my favorite Stephen King stories. It is a dark, visceral look at the cycles of life and death, through grief and loss. Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation understood that to a degree, teetering between eerie and campy, with some excellent performances that would shine on for years. Specifically, those of Jud Crandall, Victor Pascow, and Zelda.

Thenew Pet Sematary adaptation is a good movie. It will introduce numerous peopleto King, the story of The Creed family, and the haunted land beyond the deadfall.It is full of scares, atmosphere, and an excellent cast. It takes large risksin the story telling, departing from King’s source work, but these risks payoff for the most part.

The biggest is the death of Ellie Creed in lieu of Gage’s death. We see Gage run for the road, the truckbarreling ever closer, only to be snagged back at the last second as the truckwrecks, spilling its trailer into Ellie Creed, waiting on the road. I can’thelp but think this would’ve been a much more effective scene if said switchwas kept under wraps. Seeing Gage run for the road, seeing it all about tohappen and then switch would have surprised and gutted audiences that know theoriginal story.

But Ellie is buried and Ellie returns from the sour soil, a true menace. Its hard to get the terrifying performance from a toddler, but Jeté Laurence, who plays Ellie Creed, absolutely slays this role. Her character becomes acutely aware that she is dead, that everything her parents told her about death is wrong, and that it is more painful than living. She becomes a force of evil, twisting into Norma Crandall to overcome Jud and Zelda to make Rachel break down further. This departure is one that is welcomed and needed in order to tackle the darkest that this tale has to offer the viewers.

Thereare a series of smaller departures from the source material that aredetrimental to the whole of the story. These are the things holding PetSematary back from being a great adaptation to just being a good adaptation.  The first being the relationship between Louis Creed and Judson Crandall. In the book, Jud takes on the father figure role, providingLouis with advice and comfort throughout the story’s tragedies. They hold anightly ritual of unpacking the days events over beers on the Crandall porch,something that is only shown once in the film. This deviation is unfortunate becausewe miss out on the relationship, which is the catalyst of all the events thatunfold in Ludlow.

It is Jud’s descriptions of the Sematary, of the Micmac rituals, the wendigo, all of it that create suchatmosphere in the story. They only briefly touch on the pets that returned overthe past century, through newspaper clippings online, and the story of TimmyBaterman is almost cut completely, referenced just only as a Vietnam soldierkilled in action whose body disappeared from the local morgue. It is Jud’sretelling of the Baterman story that provides one of the most tragic andchilling parts of the novel, foreshadowing what is to come for Louis Creed’sfamily. These little cuts take Jud Crandall from the wise, local historian tojust the strange neighbor who seems more like an acquaintance than a friend.

Inaddition to Jud’s role, they removed his wife from the adaptation as well, asNorma is already dead once we meet Judson. This leads Ellie’s later threats thatNorma is “burning in hell” to fall flat to someone familiar with the story.They seemed to skimp on a number of supporting characters in the newestadaptation, though I was alright with the alterations to Pascow and to Zelda,even if that scene didn’t have the same payoff as the 1989 adaptation. Like Isaid, this film takes a number of risks, and most of them payoff.

            I thought that the atmosphere was oneof the most important things that the filmmakers could convey to the audience.The novel does such a fantastic job with really showing that this is the middleof nowhere. The house is fenced by a highly dangerous road, and a massive, seeminglyendless wood. There is a feeling of darkness and evil amongst those trees.Something ancient and mysterious. The fog oozes through the woods, the animalschatter in a cautious manner. In this newest adaptation, they do an excellentjob of conveying these feelings. Ellie Creed’s first walk through the woods arefilled with an eerie wonder, almost like trespassing in a forbidden place. The deadfall,the Sematary, even Little God Swamp and the table rock are all perfectlydepicted. I was wishing for the scene where Louis Creed sees the Wendigo passhim upon taking Ellie to the burial ground, but I was satisfied with them atleast including that in the movie, even if they didn’t expand on it as much asthey could have.

            The effects were nice, some great practical effect usage on the Achilles cut, and the makeup effects of Zelda’s condition. The gore was plenty, and the makeup of Ellie post mortem was some of my favorite design I’ve seen this year. The way her eye just lulled around her socket changed in every scene and made her that much creepier. The ending was a simple change that made it much scarier, but lacked a lot of punch because they didn’t expand the characters enough. Louis, Rachel, and Jud all suffered because they were not given enough time for the audience to attach with them. And for character from a Stephen King story, you have to give them the depth that they were created with. That is the only way it works.

            I know I spent a lot of thisnitpicking some minor story changes, and I get that. I think this is afantastic movie, one that will introduce tons of new fans to King’s work. It isanother shining star in the portfolio that is the Stephen King renaissance.Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer put a fun and fresh spin on a classic, ittakes chances, and it is unafraid to tread new ground. But from the duo thatmade Starry Eyes, I was hoping for just a little more care for the characters,that’s all. This is still a well-made horror flick and one that I recommend yousee as soon as possible. As Jud Crandall says, “sometimes, dead is better” butthat is not the case with this film. One can only hope more resurrections arein the future.  

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