Horror Review – “Pet Sematary”

PetSematary

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.

 

Horror Review – “Wretch”

wretch  As a longtime fan of horror, I’m always on the lookout for some good nighttime scares. I especially like to find surprise hits – those that don’t have big-budget trailers all over TV and the internet, and that often go largely unnoticed. Thus, while combing the webs a few nights ago I came across Wretch.

The trailer was interesting, and the synopsis equally as such:

“In an attempt to piece together fractured memories of a drug-fueled night in the woods, three friends confront guilt, jealousy, and a supernatural presence that threatens to expose their true natures.”

Only, that’s not entirely how this movie plays out. The opening scene has promise – one of the lead characters, Abby, is found next to a shed in a friend’s backyard in the middle of the night, letting out a creepy giggle with her mouth covered in blood. My initial thought was that this is going to be a movie that starts at the end, with the rest of the movie building up to that climatic moment. Not new or innovative, but still a potentially good way to start a horror flick. But then the flaws with this film begin.

The biggest of which starts with the next sequence: Abby is at a party and we have a first-person view from her boyfriend Caleb’s camera (we are initially encouraged to believe that Caleb has an active online channel, but more on that in a bit) as he is encouraging her to make out with their mutual friend Kara. This leads to pill-popping, then Abby and Caleb are off to bed, and we are left with Kara and angst-filled Riker. But wait – Caleb returns, and it’s Kara and Caleb who end up “hooking up” instead, which angers Riker.

The problem with this is that it is one of far too many over the top sex scenes. Not that I’m saying movies should be devoid of such scenes, but at times it’s hard to tell if this movie is trying to be a horror movie or a soft core porn. From flash backs that Abby has regarding her and Caleb’s sex life, to her and Riker, and the discovery by her that Caleb’s online “channel” is nothing more than a homemade porn site featuring him and various other girls, including videos of her and him. Sure, the writers are trying to illustrate the flaws of character that the demon in the story is feeding on, but repeated over-the-top gratuitous sex scenes come across as frivolous ways to illustrate that Caleb is a cheating sleazeball.

The story itself is written in a very disjointed fashion which gives it the feel of someone who had started writing a story, took a month long vacation, then came back to it and forgot where they left off. At first, it’s as though the movie wants you to believe that a demon just slowly crept into their lives because of their debauchery. Then there is a shift (too suddenly) to Abby possibly being mentally ill or possessed. This shift plays for a long time throughout, but then comes the “3 friends getting high in the woods” sequence that the movie’s advertising premise is set on. Did they stumble upon and disturb something there? Was it because of the semi-rape that occurs between Abby and Riker? The movie actually does answer this as “all of the above” by the time it reaches the end.

Throw in a few characters who are talked about as being important but never seen, a few “try to be creepy zoom in on windows with someone standing in them at night” scenes, and a miscellaneous swirly red symbol reminiscent of the likes of The Blair Witch Project  (by the way, this movie is part regular film and part “lost footage”), what you ultimately end up with here is a movie that is not so much horror as it is a film school project. There were a few elements in the story that, if properly highlighted, could have possibly made this a worth-while flick. But the disjointed story line killed any hope of that.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s ultimately about cannibalism?