‘Pet Sematary’ has merits, yet is a cliched, boring dead end

By Patrick Yu

“Pet Sematary” continues the line of Stephen King story adaptations, following the wildly successful “It”. But unlike “It”, “Pet Sematary” fails to convey a similarly unique and odd tone, instead falling back on old cliches that make the film a formulaic – albeit scary – horror flick.

The film starts out as all horror movies do: a family (consisting of a husband, a wife, and two small children, unsurprisingly) is moving to an idyllic, rural state, only to find that their picturesque home holds untold horrors. In this case, the family is moving to Maine, but really, the real world location means nothing. It could easily have been in Wyoming, or Montana, or any of the mountainous, forested states.

The eldest child, Ellie Creed (Jete Laurence), stumbles upon the Pet Sematary, the cemetery for dead pets. There, she befriends her neighbor Jud.

Meanwhile, the father, Louis (Jason Clarke) , is struggling at work. After failing to revive a patient, he experiences nightmares where he walks to the Pet Sematary and is told not to go beyond. In the morning, there is evidence that his nightmare may have been real.

The mother, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), experiences hallucinations about her sister, who suffered from spinal meningitis before dying. Rachel and her sister despised each other.

Things start go haywire: the family’s cat, Church, is killed by a truck. Louis and Rachel debate telling Ellie about the cat’s death, as they don’t want to expose her to the grief and trauma of losing a loved one. In these scenes, there’s an effective message about the denial and misery that one experiences upon witnessing death.

Jud, who has taken a liking to Ellie, does not want to expose Ellie to such sadness either. Thus, he leads Louis into the area beyond the Sematary, a haunted burial ground where the dead, upon being buried in that area, come back alive, in a demonic, terrifying state.

The issue with this scene is that it makes hardly any sense: Jud welcomes the Creeds in general, but not Ellie in particular. He never demonstrates a special affection towards Ellie, despite meeting her first. Thus, his motivation comes off as half-baked.

Louis buries Church there, who comes back appearing more feral and aggressive. Again, the movie progresses as you would expect any other horror movie to: the family begins seeing more and more hallucinations, and the annoying jumpscares become more and more repetitive.

During her birthday, Ellie notices Church standing in the middle of a road. So she goes over to pick Church up. You can probably guess where this goes. Ellie gets run over by a truck and Louis, in a fit of pure grief, revives Ellie through the Pet Sematary. Ellie comes back, exhibiting a demonic, ornery demeanor.

This is where most of the movie’s scares come from. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer do a fine job with the camera. The lighting, the music, and the characters’ appearances all contribute to a feeling of tension and dread. Clarke, Seimetz, and Laurence all give great performances.

After Ellie comes back to life, there is a genuine sense of horror movie style tension, when you don’t know what Zombie Ellie going to do. She realises that she died, the audience is left wondering, how is she going to carry on with her life?

The movie has a quick answer to that question: in the most conventional, obvious way possible. After she notices that her parents aren’t entirely comfortable with her existence, Ellie decides to kill them both, along with her infant younger brother, Gage, drag them into the Pet Sematary, and effectively zombie-fying the entire family. Oh, and she kills Jud too. But she doesn’t zombie-fy him.

The film portrays the theme of death in a far too literal manner. After Ellie dies, Jud, in an attempt to convince Louis not to revive her, mentions that “dead is sometimes better”. The point being that sometimes, grief can consume and completely degrade a family. But the story makes the theme very obvious and one dimensional.

The biggest issue with this film is its sheer predictability. Once Ellie dies, you know the Louis will bury her in the Sematary. Once Zombie Ellie comes around, you know that the family is going for a trip to the Sematary as well.

“Pet Sematary” has all the horror movie tropes: stupid jumpscares (there’s this one part where a loud truck blares by, scaring everyone, as if everyone has suddenly lost all sense of hearing until cars pass right by them), hallucinations, all of it. And “Pet Sematary” doesn’t feel particularly unique – certainly not as memorable as “It”.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Directors: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer

Release Date: April 5, 2019