Welcome to Knockout Horror and today we are taking a look at the 2019 remake of Pet Sematary. Does 2019’s Pet Sematary knock the original version out for the count? Let’s take a look.
Ah Horror Movie remakes.. Is there anything better for the reputation of a below average horror movie than it being remade 20-30 years later? 2019’s Pet Sematary is the perfect example of the impact a remake can have on people’s opinions of an old horror movie.
When I first watched 1989’s Pet Sematary, as child, I was terrified by it. Watching it as an adult was a little different. I thought it was a pretty fun horror with a couple of hard hitting scenes and some typically 80’s moments. It was a standard Stephen King adaptation – perfectly fine to watch with your girlfriend on a Friday night but not exactly a good example of the horror genre as a whole.
Fast forward 30 years and apparently Pet Sematary is the Citizen Kane of the horror movie genre and it’s absolute sacrilege to re-imagine it for the modern era. Now, let’s correct the image here for anyone who is a little confused and thinks Pet Sematary was ever entirely worthy of some of the praise it is getting compared to the remake.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 52% of 33 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 5.3/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Pet Sematary is a bruising horror flick that wears its quirks on its sleeves, to the detriment of its scare factor.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 38 out of 100 based on 12 critics, indicating “generally unfavorable reviews”.
When it comes to remakes, all of the Horror Historians need to cool off just a little. Given the critical reception of Pet Sematary, there is no reason to think it couldn’t have been done better in the future. Pet Sematary was never a particularly great movie. I really like it, as do others, my personal score would be around a 7 out of 10. Generally speaking, however, critically the same can’t be said. The 2019 version doesn’t deserve to be judged negatively based purely on the fact that it is a reworking.
When a film is remade or reworked, the old version doesn’t disappear. You are not forced to make an either/or choice between the two. Try to take both on their own merits and enjoy the remake for what it is. 2017’s “It” is fantastic example of a re-imagining that stands on its own merits and is just as good as the original TV version.
So with all that being said, let’s take a look at 2019’s Pet Sematary directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have worked together before on the Valentine’s Day segment of the Anthology Horror Movie “Holidays” as well as the excellent Fantasy Horror “Starry Eyes” which I will review at some point in the future. Lorenzo di Bonaventura has an extensive list of production credits including the recent creature feature The Meg, Constantine, and the Transformers films.
This is one of those strange reviews where you almost feel no need to recap the plot. Pet Sematary is such a well known movie that you assume almost everyone has at least some idea what to expect. Still, that’s not the way reviews work so for the benefit of those new to the series, here’s a quick recap.
The Creed family, Dad Louis, Mum Rachel, Daughter Ellie, and young toddler Gage; not forgetting their moggy Church; move out to a rural community, in Maine. Louis has accepted a job as a local doctor to get away from the hustle and bustle. I am assuming they did not view the property before purchasing as there is a whacking great road in front of it.
Unfortunately for the family the road appears to be the preferred route of visually impaired, lead footed, long distance truck drivers. Not a fantastic choice of home if you have pets and children. Would someone purchase a house without checking this first? This is one of a few Pet Sematary plot holes that could begin to bug you if you think too hard about them.
The Creeds aren’t there for long before Church volunteers his services as a furry tyre cover for one of the aforementioned trucks. Their neighbour, Jud Crandall, informs them that their property features a custom pet cemetery. How many homes have this? Probably handy living next to a highway!
Due to the cemetery, they can bury the cat so that Ellie doesn’t find out. For some reason Jud, in a moment of lunacy, encourages Louis to bury the cat in a very specific part of the cemetery.
That very night Church strolls back on into the house and into Ellie’s room sporting a new matted hair-do and a bad ‘tude. The return of Church from the pet cemetery is both a shade of foreshadowing and a plot device. Church’s return hints at the horrific events to come after tragedy befalls the family once again.
Anybody who has seen the original film should know what to expect in the remake. The film makers have decided to switch things up a little, however, to keep you on your toes. There is one fairly significant change from the original, in particular.
Now, this may have been a massive surprise and a fantastic twist. That is, if the idiots hadn’t spoiled it in the trailer. I am not going to point it out but this was pretty annoying. Why are publishers so willing to spill a movie’s guts in the trailers? This is becoming a fairly significant issue. As a word of note, I have included the trailer down below but if you don’t want the changes spoiled, don’t watch it.
I would have loved to have gone into this remake not knowing what had been changed. It would have opened up a whole new level of interest for me. The same could be said for probably a fair few other viewers. Obviously if you haven’t seen the trailer the twist is still new to you. Otherwise, you know what is going to happen and it’s not a surprise.
Naturally the Creed family has been recast. We now have Jason Clarke (Serenity, Terminator Genisys) in the role of Louis, Amy Seimetz (Alien Covenant, A Horrible Way to Die) as Rachel, and the talented young actor Jeté Laurence (The Snowman) as Ellie.
Recasting the beloved Jud from the 1989 version of Pet Sematary was always going to be a tall task. Originally played by the excellent character actor Fred Gwynne, Jud was beloved. John Lithgow (3rd Rock From The Sun) does a fantastic job playing a loveable, if not slightly darker, version of the Creed family neighbour.
The acting in Pet Sematary is pretty decent throughout if not a little by the numbers. An unexpected star of the show is the excellent Jeté Laurence. She is adorable, believable, and a very talented young actor. Not easy for a child but she carries the last third of the movie on her own. She reminds me of the under-rated Jodelle Ferland who cut her teeth as a child actor in horror movies.
So how does 2019’s Pet Sematary compare to the 1989 original? Jeff Buhler is tasked with the screenplay, this time, while the screen story credits going to Matt Greenberg. This means we have some differences from the original film. There are also a few more nods to the novel, and a few things that deviate entirely from both.
Perhaps the most pronounced change is the ending. Obviously this is not mentioning the major one that I won’t talk about due to it being a potential spoiler. A number of endings were filmed, including the original book ending, and screen tested. The ending that we see is the one that was, apparently, received best by the test audience. This makes me think we may have a very interesting Blu-Ray release with some director’s cut content and perhaps the alternate endings?
2019’s Pet Sematary is far more akin to popular modern horror than it is to horror movies of the 80s. It has clearly been made with a 2010s audience in mind. We have scenes that would not seem out of place in the Annabelle series. The movie almost turns into a slasher at times. There are buckets of gore and plenty of jump scares. This all seems a little at odds with the tragic themes of the story itself. The original was, however, fairly gory. The film does run pretty long and I feel we could have fit a little more character development in there.
Speaking of the movie’s length, Pet Sematary toddles along at a snail like pace. It is careful to weave a blanket of tension. The fairly rich lore attempts to hook you in while sacrificing some of the exploration into the loss felt by Louis and Rachel. Louis, in particular, feels neglected as a character. It is, after-all, his grief that leads him into the spiralling madness that powers the story along.
Louis’ friendship with Jud seems like an after-thought and, at times, Jud seems like nothing more than an inconvenience and an annoyance to Louis. Things seem to come to something of an abrupt conclusion. It was as if the producer realised that they had to wrap the filming up in under a week. In the last third, Pet Sematary explodes into outright carnage before stumbling to its ultimate conclusion.
Pacing is a pretty major issue and for a film that features a runtime of over 100 minutes you are left wondering why there was so much emptiness for the first two thirds of the film. Did we really need 40 minutes of the film dedicated to the cat dying and being a bit of a nuisance? Probably not and it impacts the enjoyment of the movie somewhat. The original 80’s version was most definitely paced better despite being a little longer.
With everything being said, Pet Sematary isn't a bad movie. It isn't a great movie either but I can definitely imagine it being a few people's guilty pleasure. While not up to the standard of the original, it is still fairly watchable.
Pet Sematary is a little like a can of Pringles. You know it's not all that good for you. You know you will probably be disappointed when you finish. You know for a fact you will definitely feel hungry again in 20 minutes. You better believe, however, that you are going to finish the entire tube in spite of all this. I watched the film in the cinema with my fiancee and we honestly both fairly enjoyed it. We weren't overwhelmed but it was still a fun movie with some interesting scenes.
My advice is if you go into Pet Sematary expecting a slightly above average horror movie with a fairly decent cast, a few jump scares, and a lot of gore; you will probably enjoy it. If you expect anything more, I would go to Amazon and order the book. Hell, check out the original as that may just scratch your itch.
The Pet Sematary novel is, at its heart, a story about grief, loss, and how we would do anything we can to protect the ones we love; no matter the consequences. Pet Sematary the movie is a run of the mill horror that is forced to push aside the greater themes of the novel to fully embrace its horror trimmings. Whereas movies such as Hereditary and The Babadook manage to balance themes of loss and grief with an overwhelming horror element; Pet Sematary is pure horror through and through. Searching for anything deeper will leave you disappointed - there are only crumbs at the bottom of that tube.