Movie Review: Pet Sematary (SPOILERS)


Remakes are not normally a problem for me. When I saw that Pet Sematary was being remade, I was beyond thrilled. The main thing that excites me about remakes is that a new generation of fans can discover an old story that they might not know about. I distinctly remember being in high school and discovering the Stephen King novel for the first time. Even in my teens, when Gage Creed is hit by that car and the Creed family is crippled by grief, I was absolutely gutted. I was completely unprepared for this twist in the story, and it was the first taste of anything in horror that made me feel actually unsafe. If kids are no longer safe in horror, anyone is fair game.

The other thing that is potentially exciting about remakes is that they are an opportunity to surprise a dedicated fanbase. While some love their remakes shot for shot, line by line, I hate this approach. I love when fans of the original are involved in remaking it. It means that they are attuned to what fans love about the original, and expand on and create around the core of the story to deliver something that is both different and does justice to the first work.

Unfortunately, the second trailer for Pet Sematary and the ending of the film guarantee that the film ultimately fails on both counts. This is especially frustrating when you look at the overall picture, because there is a lot to like about the movie…it just doesn’t quite stick the landing.

First of all, can we all just marvel for a moment at how amazing Amy Seimetz is in the role of Rachel Creed? She sells every aspect of her character. There is not a moment that she is on screen that I didn’t believe she was going through whatever emotion she was going through. She ran the range from happy to sad to panicked to disbelieving and crippled with grief. The segments involving her relationship with Zelda and her subsequent feelings about death were incredible. She sold it, and I really appreciated the change made to her character at the end. Instead of being overwhelmed with love for her returned child as in the original, she doesn’t even want to touch her. She recognizes right away that this is not right, and that the thing in front of her is not her daughter. It was something about her character that I never quite believed in the original, that someone with such a horrifying childhood experience with death would instantly embrace a child that has seemingly returned from the dead.

The other performances in the movie are solid as well. Jeté Laurence works her creepy little but off as the undead Ellie Creed, really embracing the evil version, who is no longer confused about what happens when you die. John Lithgow’s doomed neighbour, Jud, is also solid, though I would have liked some more backstory on him. His fireside conversation with Louis following Ellie’s death is genuinely moving as his stoic exterior falls away for a moment. Jason Clarke does what he can with Louis Creed, but overall Louis has never been that interesting a character to me. He is the logical thread throughout the film, only fully embracing what the land can do once he is full of grief. He is no longer thinking only rationally, but emotionally, and as a result, he becomes more multi-dimensional.

The problem for me was that after seeing the movie, I can confidently say that the second trailer released for Pet Sematary gave WAY too much away. The big reveal from the trailer is that Ellie Creed, not Gage, is the one to die. For those who are being introduced to the story for the first time, this ruins the shock value of the story. Children are spared in the vast majority of horror movies, and experiencing this moment for the first time is extremely emotional. Sadly, it is diminished when you are prepared for it. Because I was familiar with the story when I saw the trailer, seeing the film made that spoiler even worse. The scene in which Gage runs into the road only to be rescued by Louis is a powerful one. In the original, Louis fantasizes that he catches Gage in time, and if I hadn’t seen the trailer, I would have thought that this is what was happening. When the truck jackknifes and kills Ellie, who is standing further up the road, this was a moment that would have truly shocked me, and made me pay attention. It was a moment that fans could have obsessed over, and waited impatiently for their friends to see it so that they could discuss. Unfortunately, this reveal was completely squandered by the marketing of the movie.

While you can argue that it doesn’t matter which of the children suffers, it is pretty hard to get behind the revised ending. I didn’t really get the sense that Louis had become unhinged by his grief. He was pretty methodical, doing things step by step in a practical way. He can see that Ellie isn’t right, getting angry with her when she explodes. He only decides that she shouldn’t be around anymore once he finds Jud dead. Up to this point, it isn’t too far a departure from the source material, but I did find the portrayal of Louis to be a little wooden, and far less emotional than it could have been.

What happens next is that Louis sees the error of his ways. He finds Ellie, who has fatally wounded Rachel. Ellie knocks him out and buries Rachel in the cemetery. When he goes to kill Ellie, Rachel has already risen and then kills him. The whole zombie family then goes to get Gage, whom Louis has left in the car, and it is presumed that they kill him and he joins them.

While this is not a bad ending, I felt like it really takes what could be an emotional one-two punch and waters it down. Louis gets his cake and eats it, too. He gets to have both of his children and his wife, despite going against the natural order. The point is that he was not meant to have Ellie back, and there were very clear consequences to this. It makes him a victim in a scenario that he has created, intentionally or not. While I appreciated that they were trying for a happy ending for our hero, it really sucked the life out of everything that had come before. It also smelled suspiciously of a sequel set-up, and I don’t think that I’m down for that.

Admittedly, I am a huge Pet Sematary fan. I think that it is one of Stephen King’s scariest novels. I loved the original movie, even though a few effects haven’t aged that well. I went in with an open mind, and I was rewarded with some great performances. However, the marketing really sucked out any surprises that I might have had going in, and I found myself resenting this fact a little bit. This was always a story that was meant to shock, heading in to some of the darkest moments of a suffering family. As a fan, I would have appreciated the surprise change, and I feel that new fans were kind of robbed of the emotion of having the story go where it did by having it revealed ahead of time. It made what could have been a rare instance of “original remake” feel unnecessary to me, and that is a real shame.

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