There’s one famous Stephen King’s quote that works to dive in to most of his works. “Nightmares exist outside of logic,” he said before clinching his statement with an exclamation that adding explanation is no fun. That quote also works to delve into the new Pet Sematary, an adaptation of a novel which King himself always claimed to be one of the toughest even for him. Duo directors, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, seem to hold the creed too well: gone beyond the logic and giving little to no explanation for it.
Pet Sematary, a wordplay for an actual pet cemetery, observes the dark side of grief, which drives people out of logic and into the grim territory without any turning back. Even without the supernatural, Lovecraftian elements, the story is a dark one and, as a real horror, close to reality. Death, loss and grief have never been humanity’s best suit; whatever accompanies them is usually the cold, bleak fear. King understands that pretty well and fluently translates those fears into some harrowing story full of bone-chilling imagery. Kölsch and Widmyer takes a completely different approach from the 1989 adaptation which proudly makes it a campy, slasher parade only to miss the irony (even when King himself penned the script); the remake puts more weight on the fear of death more than anything else, making it creepier even without the occasional, mandatory big-studio jumpscares.
People always misunderstand the significance of the titular cemetery—calling it unrelated and sensationalist—especially with the peculiar imagery of pet burial by the children. It has always been the center of the story even when it’s not the “main course.” From the day the Creeds move to Ludlow, they’ve encountered mysterious phenomena: Rachel (Amy Seimetz), the mother, starts to be haunted by the guilty vision of her deceased sister; while, Louis (Jason Clarke), the father and a doctor, saw a vision of his deceased patient. Death and what’s beyond were a taboo thing to discuss in the family; therefore, when the family’s daughter, Ellie (Jete Laurence), finds out pet sematary along with the beguiled imagery of it, the family became concerned. When Ellie’s cat died, the family is ill-prepared for explanation; it was the time when a Louis finds an ancient burial ground, beyond the heavily-barricaded pet sematary, that can bring back the dead. Soon, what the family fears of becomes something they have to live with.
The new Pet Sematary refrains itself from being the cheap, horror-slasher that tried so hard to scare as in the 1989 adaptation. Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler (without any contribution of King) gives more portion to the fear of death; therefore, they add more portion about Rachel’s haunting past which Kölsch and Widmyer turn into some petty jumpscares. In terms of tone, Pet Sematary is closer to It (2017), that looks family friendly, but in the end, shows no mercy, than to the 1989 version. They even add a more awkward distance to the first adaptation by altering an important plot point, through some cunning framing which seems to deliberately try to trick viewers of the predecessor. Even when occasionally they exploit the use of jumpscares, what this remake tries to convey is the power of narrative: the use of overemotional grief and guilt to trigger a deliberate plothole that can only be explained by King’s statement quoted in the opening paragraph.
Clarke and John Lithgow find comfort in each character respectively. Their character mirrors each other, in the sense that they both aim to be a loving father, only to be guilt-stricken and blinded from common sense. Clarke’s descend by grief wasn’t exactly smooth; but, there’s one scene when Louis bathes his daughter that actually reflects the whole theme of Pet Sematary. Seimetz was a bit tampered in adding some layers to the traumatic Rachel, whose fear is cause of all trouble here. And yet, when it comes to the eerie conclusion, Pet Sematary delivers the potential: a bone-chilling family horror about grief and guilt, even when audiences who haven’t been familiar with Stephen King’s works will be less receptive to this “pet horror.”
Pet Sematary (2019)
Horror Directed by: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer Written by: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler based on a novel by Stephen King Starred by: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence Runtime: 101 mins