Historically, I’ve never been a fan of remakes (or reboots, if you will), especially in this genre. But as always, there are exceptions. 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead is a perfect example of one such exception, with the unfortunate updates to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre being a perfect example of the types of redo’s that I personally find annoying and disappointing. Thus, when I first saw the trailer for Pet Sematary, I greeted it with the same degree of skepticism.
Fans of Stephen King understand that at the heart of a lot of his work is human emotion. Specifically, the emotional bond of family. In fact, his well publicized dislike of Stanley Kubrick‘s adaptation of a personal favorite, The Shining, illustrates King’s belief in the importance of depth of character. You can read a brief review on some of his latest comments on the matter here.
So it comes as no surprise that Pet Sematary is a story focused on a family (a doctor, his wife, and their two young children) who have relocated to a sleepy town in rural Maine. They soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden in the woods near their home. It is explained to them by local resident Jud (John Lithgow) that many people bury their pets there. In fact, he explains, he had even buried his dog there when he was younger. But when the family’s pet cat is found dead, Jud shows the father of the family, Louis (Jason Clarke), that there is much more to the grounds just beyond a wall of dead tress and branches. In his defense, Louis was not fully aware of the impact of burying the family pet in this location despite some cryptic warnings he received from the spirit of a patient he lost earlier due to a car accident. The cat returns, and it doesn’t take long to discover that something about it just isn’t “right”. Daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) is the first to notice, and after suffering a terrible scratch from the cat tells her father to keep her bedroom door closed to keep the cat out.
The pivotal moment in the story occurs during a birthday party for the couple’s young son, Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie). The family’s home is located on a state route plagued by speeding fuel tankers from a nearby refinery. Those not familiar with this story can glean early on that the home’s close proximity to this road will most certainly have a devastating impact.
[Alert – minor spoilers follow]
This is is also where this new adaptation deviates from King’s book and the original film. Originally, it was Gage who runs into the road and is struck and killed by a speeding tanker truck. Here, Gage does run into the road, but is saved by Louis. But Ellie, who runs into the road to save the reanimated family cat, is struck and killed by the detached tank (which happened because the driver swerves to miss Louis and Gage). Some may not agree with this deviation from the original, but I think this actually helps the story once you realize the cat is possessed by a spiritual force not referenced in the original movie – the Wendigo. In fact, as the continued horror unfolds with Louis making the ultimate mistake of taking Ellie to the burial ground, it becomes abundantly clear what the Wendigo’s intentions are.
There is also the underlying story of trauma plaguing Louis’s wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), who is haunted by guilt over her deformed sister’s death. The film provides some great creep-factor sequences whenever Rachel has flash backs about her sister. This turns out to be Rachel’s greatest weakness when confronted by Wendigo-possessed Ellie – a weakness that the spirit exploits to overpower her.
As mentioned earlier, I’m usually not a fan of movie reboots, but I truly enjoyed this one. Like other reviewers have pointed out, it can often be difficult to give a reboot a fair shake on its own merit when approaching it from the angle of comparison to the original. I believe if you can block out such comparisons, you may find this to be a really good horror film as I did. Some have called the script bland and predictable, but I believe such criticisms are in fact due to simply not allowing the film to stand on its own. I found there to be a well balanced amount of scare, as well as the gut wrenching family emotion King writes about. For those unaware, King called this “the scariest book I’ve ever written“, and initially did not intend to release it. Primarily because it hit so close to home – he had moved his family to a rural town in Maine, and his son had run out into the road chasing a kite. Although there were no speeding tanker trucks, King says he was plagued by “what-ifs” like most parents would be. Thus, Pet Sematary was born.
Finally, like any film, it is not without its faults. The greatest being the deadly tanker accident sequence itself – the driver swerves, and the trailer detaches and heads towards Ellie in an almost straight line. Simply put, physics doesn’t allow this. Some have also pointed out that there are some sound synchronization issues with the thunder and lightening when Jud and Louis are walking through the burial ground.
Overall, I give this movie a thumbs up. Ignore the poor IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, and forget what you know about the original. You will be in for some refreshing chills! And, as Stephen King tweeted, “This is a scary movie. Be warned.”