The original Pet Sematary back in 1989 wasn’t a universally-praised horror movie. It was more of a love-or-hate affair, even though it did manage to find sizable audiences and turned the movie into a mini profit. Personally, I don’t really enjoy Mary Lambert’s largely schlocky and uneven take on Stephen King’s 1983 bestselling novel of the same name. Which is why I’m glad there’s finally a remake after 30 years since the 1989 original.
In this 2019 version of Pet Sematary, the story is basically more or less the same but only up to a certain point (we will get to that later): The Creeds, which include Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) along with their young daughter (Jete Laurence) and little son Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), have recently moved to their new house in Maine from Boston. Other than the house, they also happen to own a rather large land property that includes a pet cemetery. They soon learn from an old neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) that the locals choose the particular cemetery to bury their animals.
One day, when the Creeds’ family cat Church is fatally wounded and Jud suggests that Louis should bury the cat in a specific location, things start to turn creepy from there. Church has unexpectedly returned from the dead, only to look strangely vicious and hostile. But that is only the beginning as the Creeds — particularly Louis and Rachel — start to experience a series of bizarre occurrences.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, best known for their 2014’s Starry Eyes, manage to pull off some effective scares while establishing a largely consistent sense of ominous dread right from the get-go. Most of the acting performances here are particularly an improvement over the 1989 original, notably on Jason Clarke’s engaging performance as Louis, who is definitely a mile better than the disappointingly wooden Dale Midkiff did the first time around. John Lithgow delivers a decent supporting turn as Jud Crandall, while Jete Laurence mostly steals the show as Ellie.
Now, remember about the part where I mentioned: “only up to a certain point”? Let’s just say the new Pet Sematary isn’t entirely faithful to the source material but Kölsch and Widmyer alongside screenwriter Jeff Buhler still manage to retain the thematic elements of resurrection and fear of death. The particular major change, which occurs in the later scene, might alienate or frustrate fans of the book and the 1989 movie adaptation. But frankly, that change is actually justified and even made the increasingly pessimistic third-act all the more morbidly effective.
While the new Pet Sematary manages to get things right in a few areas, some of the horror elements tend to feel forceful or trying too hard to elicit a fear response. The mix of practical and digital effects seen in the likes of the undead Church the cat and a particular truck accident tend to look visually inconsistent.