Updated: Sep 23, 2019
For many King- and horror-enthusiasts, the original movie-adaptation of Stephen King's Pet Sematary was an iconic piece of our adolescent/young-adult lives. The original movie gave me nightmares, both when I was asleep and when I was awake. Pet Sematary taught me why you just don't f*** around with the natural order of the world, and why you always, ALWAYS, look both ways when you're crossing a road.
Like most horror aficionados, when I learned that they were remaking Pet Sematary, I was a little apprehensive, but mostly overjoyed. I figured, after King's frustration with how The Shining was made, that he wouldn't let Hollywood touch any of his books ever again unless they were going to do it well. But when I watched the remake of Pet Sematary, I was left feeling a little ambivalent and it's taken me a couple weeks to really think about why.
Generally speaking, the second I finish a movie I have a gut feeling about it. When my mom and I finished watching the remake of Pet Sematary, there was no gut feeling to speak of (except the chill I was riding from that last shot, but we'll talk about that later). I think it's because the movie was pretty evenly split between things that were awful and things that worked well.
So let's talk about the good and bad of the remake of Stephen King's Pet Sematary!
WARNING: It's probably obvious, but I'll say it anyways: from here on out, this post contains spoilers to both movie adaptations of Pet Sematary.
To be Good at Acting or Not to be Good at Acting
The biggest reason the remake was difficult to watch was because of the acting in the first half of the movie.
From the get-go, the relationship between Amy Seimetz (Rachel/Mom) and Jason Clarke (Louis/Dad) fell flat. The producers went for the happy-couple-looking-to-start-over-after-dad-works-too-hard-in-the-city trope, but somehow managed to pick two people who looked miserable together. Everything about them just felt contrived. I found myself cringing any time Clarke and Seimetz interacted with each other or their children. It was like playing the role of a parent was unnatural for them, especially for Clarke.
And yet, in many ways, some of the acting was just PERFECT!
Ellie (played by Jete' Laurence) might've been even more terrifying in the remake than Gage was in the original movie. She was brutal, heinous, malevolent, and every other synonym for evil out there! What was fun about her character was the false sense of loyalty she had toward her family, as long as they were on her side. But the second her liveliness or goal was threatened, she snapped!
Clarke, surprisingly, also had some good moments once he became a desperate father hiding a secret (and a pretty big one at that). You got the sense that the decision to bring his daughter back from the dead was tearing him apart (Lisa)—kudos if you get that reference. But, maybe that was largely due to the make-up artists. I mean, just look at him! The dude looks destroyed.
Twist and Shout
I'm going to tell you a brief story. My mom and I made a pact to watch the remake of Pet Sematary (and Jordan Peele's Us) together, because we both love Stephen King, horror movies, and the original Pet Sematary. It took us almost two months to find the time but we finally set a date and I came over first thing in the morning, without the baby, and we hit "play".
Wouldn't you know it, about two seconds into the movie it dawned on me: we're about to watch a movie about a little boy dying in front of his parents. Mind you, I am a recent mom of a son, and the mere thought of anything bad happening to him shatters my heart into a million pieces. I can't even hear him whimper without going on high alert.
So, with this realization in mind, I turned around and looked at my mom with wide eyes and said, "I don't think I can watch this."
Of course, I was 90% joking. I mean, we'd already waited so long and I wasn't about to stop then! But I was worried... and assuming you've all seen the original movie, you know which scene I was worried about.
Fast-forward an hour or so into the movie (honestly, you could probably just start watching it from here anyways...) and it's Ellie's birthday party. They're playing some kind of running-and-screaming game that children do when they're in large groups. The cameraman keeps panning to the toddler Gage, standing behind a car—un-f***ing-supervised—near the road that's already been established as a road that trucks like to speed down... My stomach lurches, I know what's coming.
Gage starts running into the middle of the road. Louis sees him, and bolts after him, screaming and yelling for him to stop. I'm already crying and hiding my face. Even as I'm typing this, I feel sick to my stomach. I don't want to see this little boy killed. It's too close to home and it's just too barbaric.
To my surprise, Louis reaches Gage just in time to pull him out of harm's way. It's time for celebration! Their small child lives! Beyond all expectations! Huzzah!
But what's this? The zombie-cat is sitting in the middle of the road not too far ahead, the one that their daughter thought was dead. Ellie prances out to the cat, just in time to be kersplatted by the massive Orinico rig.
I'm sorry... but I couldn't help but still feel a little elated. ESPECIALLY as the movie progressed and Ellie became so terrifying!
But, aside from my own predisposition toward preferring the male toddler lives, this was just brilliant remake magic. When remaking a classic, there's a fine line to toe between maintaining the status quo but giving viewers something memorable. Ellie dying in Gage's place was that moment. I know I personally did not see it coming and it became the highlight of the movie for me.
Blind Belief is for Bozo's
Let's get back to some of the not-so-great moments though.
I think, on some level, we can all understand why someone would try reanimating their child after their death. Grief is a horrible experience, but the grief of a child is arguably the most devastating. So I'm not going to say that it was unbelievable that Louis would bury Ellie in the same burial grounds that brought back their evil zombie cat, but I will say that his motives weren't done well in this adaptation.
First of all, prior to Ellie dying, Louis brought back their cat and, after noticing it was much more sinister than it was in its prior life, drives who-knows-how-many-miles away and ditches it in the woods. That's how determined he is to remove it from their lives. The cat hurt their son and he's convinced it will strike again.
And yet, his first thought after his daughter's death is to give her the same fate? Talk about blindly hoping for the improbable...
And, about this cemetery—or rather, these burial grounds. Why in the world did their friendly neighbor Jud think it was a good idea to show Louis the burial grounds? Did he not experience the same brutal reality when he buried his own dog three years ago? And he doesn't even warn Louis! He just walks him up there, shows him where to dig, and the deed is done.
Which brings me to my next frustration, why is Louis just following this stranger on some long trek with their dead cat in tow? I'm sorry, but John Lithgow has one of those friendly-creepy faces, the kind of person that you give the benefit of the doubt to until they do something weird and then you abandon ship. Him saying, "follow me," and then walking deeper into the woods with a cat carcass across his back is one of those alarm-blaring moments.
Lastly—and I'm not sure this fits in this section or not, but since I'm on a roll about my frustrations with the movie I thought I'd keep going—what was with the children in the masks? They seemed to be added in their purely for the creep-factor, but since there was no real connection back into the story, it just felt random and forced.
Unless... Now I'm remembering that zombie-Ellie wound up in an animal mask. Does this mean that the children from earlier were also undead children? Is there now just an entire community of zombie children, and pets, and families running around Ludlow, Maine? I can get behind this!
An Ending to Die For
Like the movie, let's end on a good note.
I abhor the happy ending that is just for the sake of a happy ending. So, as you can imagine, I was quite happy with the ending of both Pet Sematary movies. And the ending of the remake had quite a few positives.
For starters, I enjoyed the final battle between Louis and his zombie-daughter. By the end of the movie, after Ellie has killed Jud and killed Rachel, Louis finally realizes that he's made a mistake and that the Ellie that has returned isn't his Ellie. So he does what any responsible father would do: he follows her to the "pet sematary", intent on killing her. What we get is a brief fight scene between the two of them, which you would think would be weak or cringeworthy, but I found myself cheering instead!
And then, seconds before Louis kills Ellie once and for all, zombie-Rachel comes out of nowhere—okay, probably from the burial grounds—and kills him! Not gonna lie, I was utterly shocked and so, SO impressed by that ending.
But it didn't end there. It got so much better.
The final scene is of the whole zombie clan—Louis, Rachel, and Ellie—walking back to their home, toward the car that Louis stowed Gage inside. Right as they reach the vehicle, standing before Gage like a creepified version of a white-picket-fence family, the zombie-cat jumps onto the hood of the car, and they're all reunited once more.
(Why can't I find a picture of that moment—man, it was so good!)
When you look the 2019 film adaptation of Pet Sematary up on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, you find a pretty mid-range rating, and I think this is a fairly accurate representation. The movie was just meh.
Some of it was way too hokey—like the children in the masks, and Louis and Jud climbing the mountain to the burial ground that was SO OBVIOUSLY a low-budget green screen, or the terrible acting for the first hour of the movie...
But there was some good within it too. The second half of the film was much better and smoother than the first half, either because they team had warmed up by then or maybe because that was the half of the movie that they were more excited about. Most notably was Ellie's performance as the creepy, evil-tempered zombie-child, not to mention, I don't think I'll ever forget the family walking up on Gage in the car at the end. *I just got chills again*
But is this movie "one for the books" so to speak? Will it be the next cult classic? Hell no. Should hyper-fans watch it? Probably not. Should someone interested in staying up-to-date in the latest pop culture take a gander? Sure, why not! It's the perfect "latest" because it's got things to love and hate and who doesn't love griping about something that they couldn't actually make better themselves! ^_^
Let's hope that the film adaptation of Stephen King's Doctor Strange, the sequel to The Shining, is a little more memorable though!
Until next time friends,
Fantasy Author (The Awakened series)