Pet Sematary rises again

A worthy addition to the canon of Stephen King adaptations

A scene from Pet Sematary. Photos © 2018 Paramount Pictures

The latest film version of Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary has finally arrived, 30 years after the first, from co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. While there are some new twists, including one fairly major change, the new film stays incredibly faithful to its dark spirit, and manages to rise above the original adaptation.

For nearly 40 years, Stephen King has been called the king of horror, written a number of novels considered classics of the genre, such as The Shining, It and Carrie. While many have been made into good motion pictures, there's no denying that there's also a graveyard of bad King adaptations.

Pet Sematary is, without question, one of King's darkest, most horrifying novels. It's a pitch-black study of grief and madness, the living and the undead. Although the original film, in 1989, wasn't necessarily a bad film, it was definitely not a memorable one. Not to mention the terrible sequel, Pet Sematary 2, from 1992. So, with all of today's better computer graphics and modern technology catching up, Pet Sematary is one of King's classic tales.

The story follows the life of Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), who gets a new job and moves his family to a house in rural Maine. The new beginning seems too good to be true -- happy, loving family with children, and a pet. But when tragedy comes -- his daughter's cat dies -- Louis meets Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), an old neighbour who introduces him to the ancient burial ground beyond the church cemetery that can bring the dead back to life, but only as evil shadows of themselves. And it's only a matter of time before the real sinister and horrifying events strike the family.

First and foremost, the casting of the 2019 version of Pet Sematary is amazing. Lithgow is great, as always. He does a great job playing a kind of character that captures what Pet Sematary does to people so well. Jeté Laurence is superb as both the living and dark reanimated Ellie. Clarke and Amy Seimetz also have great chemistry as husband and wife.

What made the story of Pet Sematary so powerful is that it was about people who play on the grief of people. They catch them when they're weak. So we understand the motive of why somebody would go to the point where they decide to do such insanely horrifying things -- bringing death back to life, even if they won't come back the same. It's almost like the place needs these people to do this, and the film delivers very well on those elements.

The film also deserves credit for creating a spooky atmosphere that avoids clichéd jump scares. There are scenes when you expect something to jump out at you but it doesn't. Instead, the film leads you to another dark place.

I also love how they end it in this remake. It's such a bold new ending, very different from the original film, but somehow works better. It's definitely not an easy ending -- it's one of those endings that will haunt people when they walk out of the cinema.

If the film has flaws, then they may be due to it having two directors, Kolsch and Widmyer, as at times it can't seem to decide whether it's a tale of psychological terror or a straight-up horror movie. But overall, this is a worthy addition to the King canon.

Jason Clarke as Louis. © 2018 Paramount Pictures