Released on April 5th, this most recent adaptation of the Stephen King novel opened in second place at the box office, making approximately twenty-five million dollars domestically, clearing it’s twenty-one million dollar budget. While a commercial success to be sure, does the film succeed to be an adaptation of the novel that King himself has said is the book that scares him to most? I don’t think it does, especially when one considers that there is already an adaption of this film, albeit thirty years old now, that does successfully put the nihilist novel on the screen.
Starring Jason Clarke (Mudbound, Zero Dark Thirty), Amy Seimetz (Get Shorty, Stranger Things), and John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun, Interstellar), the film tells the tale that horror fans know well, a family moves to home in Maine, and on that property is a local landmark, a pet cemetery, spelled “sematary” on the handmade sign. Beyond that, however, and still on the land they bought is another place, where if the dead are buried in that accursed soil, they are returned to life, but wrong, violent and cruel.
It’s hard to not spoil a movie based on a nearly forty-year-old book that already has an adaptation that is three decades old and a sequel of its own, but this version does twist things up, some for the better. The film itself feels streamlined, they cut characters, switched up which things happen to which characters, but for all of that, there is still a lot of fat on this movie, and as it is only a hundred minutes in length, there’s not all that much room for the chaff.
It spends nearly three-quarters of it's run time setting up the strange and otherness of the house, Seimetz's character's trauma with death, and the history of the place, though with only vague mentions of the ancient Native American burial ground and its curse, a welcome change. Their cat, Church, dies at what could be described as the end of the first act if I believed that this movie followed a three act structure, but it really doesn't. Their daughter, in this version, dies with about twenty minutes left, and the third act barely has any denouement to speak of.
I did find the ending, which is different from the novel, interesting and makes me think about the implications of it in a different way than the novel did, and in that, I think the movie makes a better choice than the book, but I don't have much else good to say about the film.
It makes choices I would not have, from building the tension in the movie almost entirely off of jump scares, and a half of them from things that don't matter. Furthermore, there are so many strings that don't become part of the final knot of the plot. The masked kids that appear in the trailer don't mean anything, nor does any part of the faint traces of the burial ground origin. Once the child is dead and resurrected, we spend no time with her. The cat was around for longer. If we spent more time exploring how corrupted whatever dark power behind the cemetery, I think that would have been a better use of the film's time.
All things considered, for those who only know the premise of Pet Sematary through cultural osmosis or are just horror movie fans, this one may be fun. Stephen King fans may or may not enjoy the things that had been changed, and may question why does this movie exist when is already been adapted, and well to boot. I can't answer those thoughts, but I'm not sure that Pet Sematary is worth a watch.
Pet Sematary is open wide in theaters.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.