Wait. Hold up. It took four cats to play the cat “Church”? And it took two kids to play Gage? That’s commitment!
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
There are those times when it’s pretty tough to separate the original from the copy, the copy from the source material, and the original from the mind of the visionary. It’s been done, but it’s not an easy task. Zach Synder did it with aplomb in his masterful treatment of Dawn of the Dead. Some (read: not everyone) would argue Luca Guadadino give it a really solid go in his attempt to tackle the mother-of-all Giallo flicks, Suspiria. And you could even argue that Mr. Patrick Lussier hit the bullseye with his hyper-realized re-imagination of 1981’s slasher great, My Bloody Valentine. But, did directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer get anywhere close to the target with the 2019 remake of Pet Sematary? Answer: maybe.
For those of you who’ve chosen to live off-the-grid for the last 40+ years, Pet Sematary is the 2019 remake of the 1989 film, that’s based on the 1983 book by horror writtin’ legend, Stephen King. In all three cases, Pet Sematary follows father and doctor, Louis Creed (Jason Clark), and his family: wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), son Gage (Lucas and Hugo Lavoie), and cat Church (JD, Jager, Tonic, and Leo). They decide to leave the hustle and bustle of the big city (Chicago, Chicago, and Boston – respectively) for the small town life in Ludlow, Maine. In addition, in all three cases, their extra-neighborly neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) befriends them and teaches them the ways of the woods. Someone close to the family (…no spoilers here, yo) dies and Jud informs Louis that there might be a way for the family to forgo the grief and anguish and maybe, just maybe, bring that entity back to life.
Jud and others continually warn Louis that playing with the cosmos is like playing with fire. It will never quite turn out the way you’ve intended and there’s an awfully good chance that your penchant for overcoming your grief will actually manifest itself in even more grief. As Louis himself powerfully utters, “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it.” Louis is easily the most complex character in all three versions of this conflicted story. He is a dad who wants to be all-knowing and protective of his family. He’s a doctor who eschews faith and spirituality, but is none too reluctant to have a go at playing god. He is a man who just wants to do good – his version of good.
Pet Sematary does bring several subtle and not-so-subtle variations to the table. Among them, the horrifying treatment of the Louis’ wife Rachel’s sister, Zelda. In the 1989 version, the terror was based in dread, doom, and horror. The 2019 remake removes the feeling of doom and replaces it with grief, sadness, and jump scares. Mind you, the jump scares are legitimate. Who knew a dumbwaiter could make a horror podcaster jump straight out of his seat! Both Zeldas have their own unique and spooky qualities, but be forewarned Zelda purists, the 2019 incantation is different from its 1989 brethren. In addition to a new take on Zelda, early on in the film, directors Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer introduce a procession of cult-like masked children burying what appears to be a dog. Sadly, this frightening visual is never followed and this cult-esque subtext is never explored. These visuals are profoundly hustled in all of the marketing materials, but barely make a dent in the final cut of the film.
As Rachel and Louis struggle with grief, loss, and general parenting malaise, Pet Sematary puts a sturdy spotlight on the greatest of all fears – the loss of a loved one. But, more importantly, posits the scariest of all questions – if you could resurrect your child (defects and all) would you? Would you consider the moral and ethical complications of such a feat or would you throw caution in to the wind and get yourself a kid 2.0? Both the 2019 and the 1989 versions of the 1983 novel answer these questions, but in decidedly different ways. Not bad, not worse, just different.
Metaphorically, that’s what the remake does. It toys with fate and doesn’t accept the idea of leaving well enough alone. The 2019 Pet Seminary has some wonderful scary-scares. Some great performances are turned in by all. The twists and turns it takes from its contemporaries are truly terrifying, but as neighborly-neighbor Jud Crandall put it “…Sometimes, dead is bettah.”
Pet Sematary is Rated R and currently in theaters everywhere.