“Sometimes dead is better”
There’s something consciously scary about Stephen King stories. Films like ‘Secret Window’, ‘The Mist’ and ‘1408’ have rated as some of my favorite films of the past decade. Despite the purposefully limited viewings I’ve given these films there’s something which resonates in the way that few films can, leaving a mental footprint about what you’ve just watched.
King’s latest adaptation is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and written by Jeff Buhler, from a screen story by Matt Greenberg. The film has been made for screen before, with a 1989 version achieving cult status, and the seldom seen straight to VHS 1992 sequel was perhaps only notable for starring Edward Furlong less than 12 months after his appearance in Terminator 2 as John Connor.
In either case Pet Semetary (that’s intentional) centres’s around the Creed family – who move to the countryside to escape life from the big city – patriarch Louis offered a job as a doctor from the University of Maine. Having spent years on the graveyard shift at Boston ER’s it’s a welcome break which allows him to quietly watch his kids growing up and not sacrifice the knowledge of his career.
No sooner than the family have moved into the neighborhood do they meet Judd (played in this incarnation by the wonderful John Lithgow) who warns them against the Pet Semetary – an odd place set up by the townsfolk on their farms land which has, for generations, been the place to bury their pets. Witnessing a procession of children burying a neighborhood dog encourages mother Rachael that her children Ellie and Gage need to be kept far from wandering in the woods, made worse by the fact Zelda suffers nightmares from a trauma haunting her own past.
Soon after their arrival Louis is unable to save the life of a student in the University. Shocked that he would have to experience such an accident at the campus, nightmares begin to plague his life, leading to strange dreams and being beckoned beyond the cemetery to a mysterious land.
From here the film takes darker and darker turns, examining such topics as how to address mortality around children and similar trends to the types of things John Cusack faced as Michael Enslin in 1408. King’s own work is truly scary at times, and if rumor is to be believed, this particular story was the one book which King actually admitted to having scared himself writing. Not intending to ever release it, he only did so on the insistence of his wife to fulfill a contractual obligation.
Never work with children or animals, and that is probably a good segway to credit ‘Church’ the family cat – named after Winston Churchill. Rarely has an animal character in a film made quite the impact and it could be argued that at times his acting is more substantial – and welcoming – than the humans. Jason Clarke takes the lead here, known for roles in ‘White House Down’, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Terminator Genisys’ (making him the second ‘John Connor’ to star in a Pet Semetary film actually) and although he is – at times – convincing it just can’t be ignored that previous King adaptations have been helped tremendously by the natural skills of Cusack, Depp and Robbins etc. not to mention an exceedingly good supporting cast, which this movie – Lithgow excepted – fails to find.
A very contained film it strays from involving too much of the modern world, rather lost in a pleasant place that could be anywhere between now and 1994. It’s also left with an opening that, although follows through to the novel adaptation, instead picks moments of genuine delight – especially in its third act – in which we’re treated to some of the best dialogue going, particularly by newcomer Jete Laurence.
Both Victor and Zelda’s roles are just as impacting but have less merit than in the original, especially that of Victor, with more focus on the realistically possible in this movie – in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight moved away from the fanciful and instead presented a straight edged movie. It’s always difficult to remake a film like this, without spoiling things or revealing a hidden twist, but suffice to say that fans of the original will not go home disappointed and fans of horror will have more than enough reason to grab themselves a copy of the original when they’re through with this one.
That said, if you’ve seen the trailer, you may have missed the biggest turn of the night.